Russia’s military recruitment drive kicks off as Ukraine fears spread among young people

But amid the heavy losses incurred by Russian forces in their Ukrainian campaign, which appears to have lasted longer than the Kremlin expected, Shoigu’s assurances did not make all potential recruits and their families comfortable.

All Russian men between the ages of 18 and 27 must serve in the army for one year, and conscription campaigns are usually conducted every spring and autumn. Military evasion carries heavy fines and penalties of up to two years in prison.

Human rights groups and lawyers say that since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, they have been receiving a barrage of calls from eligible men, as well as their wives, girlfriends and mothers, seeking legal assistance in avoiding conscription.

“The amount of applications is enormous, which is much more if compared to [to previous drafts]A lawyer who works with a legal group called Conscious Refusal from Military Service in Russia said, which helps Russians navigate conscription and contract service laws in the armed forces. The lawyer spoke on condition of anonymity because Russia recently introduced new laws that impose penalties for “discrediting” the Russian military.

Since the group created a Telegram account three weeks ago to address cases faster, lawyers have received more than 8,000 requests for help, they said. Other Russian organizations, such as the Soldiers’ Mothers Committee and the Agora Human Rights Group, have also reported a rise in inquiries about the draft and potential mobilization.

“People are not reassured [by what Shoigu said] “Because he is supported by nothing but the minister, he said that,” the lawyer said. Because in fact, the law, the Military Service Regulations, allows for the dispatch of conscripts who have served at least four months in combat.

Even some military officials acknowledged that the recruitment would take place under difficult conditions.

Saint Petersburg Military Commissar Sergei Kachkovsky said in late March, according to the Interfax news agency, that “an informational and psychological war is increasingly being waged against Russia by a massive avalanche of counterfeit products.” Young people also have little information about the life of the Russian armed forces and the country as a whole. This results in a growing fear of discipline and the military and growing anti-state sentiment.”

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The Russian military includes both conscripts and professional troops who sign a contract for service.

President Vladimir Putin said on March 8 that the fighting in Ukraine did not include conscripts.

But videos released by the Ukrainian military allegedly show that Russian conscripts were captured in the early days of the war. In one such clip, Damur Mustafayev, 23, said his unit had been told it would take part in military exercises in western parts of Russia. But it ended up in the Chernihiv region of central Ukraine, where Mustafayev was captured after his tank broke down.

The next day, March 9, the Russian Defense Ministry admitted sending some recruits to Ukraine – calling it a “mistake” – and they had already been captured.

Suspicions of military officials run deep in Russia. Many people remember their trauma during the separatist wars in the Chechen Republic in southern Russia in the 1990s and early 2000s. Thousands of young men were killed, woefully unprepared for battle, and groups such as the Soldiers’ Mothers Committee gained prominence, working to release prisoners of war and return corpses to grieving families. These groups also sought to reform military service and address issues such as beatings, abuse, and humiliation of soldiers, as well as shortages of food and other necessities.

For years, various groups have campaigned to end conscription in Russia and replace it with an all-volunteer contracting force, similar to the United States, which halted conscription in 1973.

“The decision to join the army must be made cognizant,” Olga Golovina, head of the Committee of Mothers of Soldiers of the Novosibirsk Region, told local media. “To do this, a person must be mentally and morally formed. Then people will not be pushed there under pressure. The military is a difficult experience, but a valuable experience – if the conditions are right.”

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In 2019, Putin pledged to abolish military conscription, but the end date remains unclear. He made similar promises over and over again during his tenure, but none of them came true.

Under Russian law, men can refuse to join the military and seek alternative service — such as shifts in post offices, nursing homes and hospitals — on religious, moral or political grounds.

“A lot of people fear that in conditions of actual war, the law will not work, that the military will spit on the constitution, and instead of giving them alternative service, it will immediately take them into the recruiting offices and send them to the war zone,” the lawyer said. So far, the recruiting offices have continued to accept requests, the lawyer said. alternative service.

Many Russians also try to avoid conscription for health reasons and through deferments granted to college students. But recruiting offices do not always accept these reasons.

Russians have good reason to doubt whether conscription will be carried out fairly, given the reluctance of some officials to abide by rules on waivers and deferments and the common practice among wealthier Russians of buying a way out of military service.

An IT specialist, who recently graduated from a Moscow university, said in an interview that his local committee tried to put pressure on him to enter the compulsory service last year. The young man, in his early twenties, had an official letter from his university confirming that he had defended his undergraduate thesis and that he had taken a two-month sabbatical before entering graduate school. Russia routinely grants deferments from military service until all studies are completed.

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“But what happens is they tell you, ‘Wipe your ass with this letter; The student remembers that tomorrow you are going to a military base. “The commissioners are trying to put as much pressure on you as possible, they refuse to accept any letters of deferral, and their only goal is to get you to sign the draft notification.”

The student eventually sued the recruiting office and won, much to his surprise.

The draft is also riddled with corruption. Enlistment offices have networks of doctors, staff, and military officials willing to sell military service record cards, which allow men to avoid conscription, at a cost of several thousand dollars each. The rising cost of such cards has led many parents to have two savings funds: one to pay for college and one to bribe the recruiting office.

Conscription evasion is particularly common in major cities such as Moscow and Saint Petersburg but is more of a challenge for residents of less prosperous areas.

At the same time, volunteering to serve as a contract soldier is one of the few options for young Russians who need a fixed-paying job. Human rights groups have also reported that some conscripts were forced into contract service prior to the invasion of Ukraine.

“In general, the problem of forcing conscripts to sign contracts is a systematic problem and it existed before the outbreak of the war,” the lawyer said. All of this is done so that military leaders can derive good numbers from their enlistment reports.

Many of the requests for help the lawyers’ group has received come from professional soldiers and other contractors trying to avoid being sent to Ukraine.

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