What does Russia's mobilization decision signify?
The Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24 turned into a proxy war between Russia and the West with Ukraine being armed by the United States and Europe. But things are not going the way Russia would like. The Russian army has begun to retreat and suffer losses in places like Izyum as a result of the combination of the efforts of the Ukrainian army with the weapons sent by the West. Meanwhile, it has been decided to hold a referendum in Donetsk, Luhansk and Kherson from September 23 to 27. Although it was anticipated, with this step the tension between Russia and the West reached a new level. At this point, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared a partial mobilization throughout Russia for today (Wednesday). Why has Putin made this decision? Who is included in the partial mobilization? How does Russian society view the war? What does the mobilization decision mean? In this analysis we will look for answers to these questions.
PARTIAL MOBILIZATION: 300,000 WILL BE RECRUITED OUT OF 25 MILLION PEOPLE
In his speech today, which was rescheduled yesterday, Putin announced a partial mobilization based on information and requests from the Defense Ministry. The mobilization will include those who have previously served in the army in certain positions, as well as reservists. To reiterate: A full mobilization is not on the table. According to the Russian Defense Ministry, 25 million people are required to enlist in the army when a general mobilization call is issued. However, the number is likely to be lower in the case of the announced partial mobilization.
The number of people to be called up was specified by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Putin, who said: "There are 25 million people in our country (Russia) who have served in the military, and right now we are calling up a little more than one percent."
Considering this statement, the defense authorities agree that the number will be around 300,000. The Russian army is the second largest in the world in terms of the number of soldiers. With a population of 142 million people, Russia has 3,569,000 military personnel and 1,014,000 active soldiers. Russia has deployed about 1.5 million troops to Ukraine, including active servicemen. However, defeats and retreats have necessitated an increase in the size of the armed forces. Most recently, Moscow decided in August to deploy 100,000 troops to the region. Another major issue in the run-up to mobilization is the amendment to Russia's Criminal Code, which was made on September 20. Under it, those covered by the mobilization order face severe criminal penalties if they fail to report for duty, make false excuses, or desert.
70 PERCENT SUPPORT THE WAR
Since Moscow's decision to attack Ukraine, the Russian public's opinion of the war has often been the subject of debate. Those who observe the situation outside Russia usually see the critics of the war opponents - from academics to journalists, from activists to lawyers. But is the Russian population really against the war in Ukraine?
First of all, not all Russians are against the war or for the war, but according to a recent article published in the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace by Denis Volkov and Andrei Kolesnikov, support for the war is greater than previously thought. According to the authors, while 20 to 25 percent of respondents oppose the war, 70 percent support "Russia's special operation in Ukraine." The use of the term "special operation" is important because respondents seem to accept the official narrative that Russia has not invaded Ukraine, but is cleansing the country of neo-Nazis.
More importantly, the expectation that the sanctions accompanying the outbreak of war would reduce support for Putin has been disappointed in this regard as well. Just as after the annexation of Crimea in 2014, support for Putin is increasing rather than decreasing. Noting that the existing ratios have not changed significantly since the beginning of the war, we should draw attention to another aspect.
The division of society between generations and within families has reached the level of polarization, with children not speaking to their parents and couples on the verge of separation.
PRESSURE FROM THE FAR RIGHT: WE HAVE TO PUSH HARDER
While such an image prevails in society, the voices of opposition against the war have grown louder in Russian politics. This is not so much due to politicians' restraint as to the fact that dissidents have been silenced and imprisoned by harsh measures. However, the same cannot be said of the supporters' side. In Russia, there are some journalists, military officers, intelligence officers and paramilitary groups, as well as representatives and members of political parties, who not only support the war in Ukraine, but call for its escalation and advocate it. We must note that there are even calls for the use of nuclear weapons in the war in Ukraine. This group is also ambitious on the border issue, arguing that Russia should annex the territory from Kherson to Odessa. The fact that Putin referred to nuclear weapons in his speech can be seen as evidence of pressure from these groups.
In his speech today, Putin said, "The West has gone beyond all limits of aggression against Russia. The West is using nuclear blackmail against us. But Russia has plenty of weapons to reply, I am not bluffing." The Kremlin had also stated that it would resort to nuclear weapons during the occupation debates, but this matter had fallen off the agenda after a while. It is frightening for both Russia and the world that a group of weapons with unpredictable disasters like nuclear weapons has become an option again, but it should be noted that the far right is happy with this decision.
So what will happen now? Donetsk, Luhansk and Kherson will hold a referendum on joining Russia on September 23-27. As in Crimea in 2014, the decision to join Russia is expected to be approved by more than 90 percent in this series of referenda. Western centers have already announced that they will not recognize this decision. Russia, on the other hand, is expected to quickly put this demand on the agenda and agree to it. It is normal that the West does not recognize this decision, but the next steps after the referendum are important. Today, many states do not recognize Crimea as a federal region of Russia, but Russia is de facto there. It is officially part of the territory of Crimea. A similar situation applies to these three places. Moreover, if Ukrainian troops/warring parties in these three cities do not withdraw, Russia could claim that it is defending its territory and escalate the situation to the point of total mobilization. In other words, tensions in the Ukraine war are reaching a new level, and peace seems to be off the table.