“One could somehow understand the hysterical and extremely emotional reaction in the first hours after the announcement,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Friday morning, according to a translation of his remarks.
He attributed that response – including a veritable exodus of serving-age men and their families to Russia’s airports and borders – to “a certain lack of information”, which he said is understandable. The Cabinet of Ministers has activated all lines of communication and the Ministry of Defense is now regularly answering questions from potential conscripts about what they are facing with the reserve call-up.
“There is no shortage of clarifications now,” Peskov said.
Putin’s alleged inner-circle empathy represents the latest approach his government has taken in response to the uprisings and mass flight following its decision earlier this week – seen as a tacit admission of Russia’s failures in Ukraine seven months after the start of a most anticipated operation. would end in days.
Heavily armed police forces suppressed rare and widespread civilian protests in Moscow and elsewhere. According to reports, some of the arrested dissidents were taken directly to military recruitment centers for their new responsibilities.
The Kremlin and the Defense Ministry have tried to clarify that only those with combat or trauma experience will be among those forced to serve, including veterans but also paramedics and qualified doctors in hospitals. and clinics.
They also disavowed widely circulated and allegedly official documents that purport to show plans to conscript 1 million or more Russians into military service in a bid to bolster the military campaign, calling the reports a “lie.”
Russian state news also widely reported statements by the governments of the Baltic states and Poland that they would not house fleeing Russians as asylum seekers, pointing out that even those who can escape are not necessarily immune to their new state-imposed demands.
“Refusal or desire to fulfill one’s civic duty in Russia does not constitute sufficient grounds for obtaining asylum in another country,” Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu told Reuters in an email.
Ukraine tried to capitalize on the widespread outrage. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his late-night address Thursday that his country’s intelligence services have proven that Russia plans to broaden its scheme widely, not just limit it to veterans and reservists as he claims.
“We know they will take everyone indiscriminately. Not just reserve servicemen, but all men,” he said. “Fifty-five thousand Russian soldiers died in this war in six months. Tens of thousands are injured and maimed.
“Want more? No? Then protest. Defend. Flee. Or surrender to Ukrainian captivity. These are options for you to survive.
Meanwhile, Belarus, one of Russia’s few remaining regional allies, has tried to distance itself from the news and dire fallout, with its autocratic leader Alexander Lukashenko announcing on Friday that his country would not undertake such a move. mobilization.
The realities of forcing 300,000 citizens to serve, training them and preparing them to deploy to a war zone as winter approaches – all under shortages imposed by Western sanctions – mean that the influx will likely have little effect on Russia’s military campaign, analysts say. On the contrary, these latest measures are an attempt by Putin’s government to retain its own legitimacy.
Instead, Putin finds himself increasingly isolated at home — and abroad. While China hasn’t publicly criticized Russia, it has also declined to comment on the latest mobilization beyond acknowledgment of the civil dissent it has provoked – yet the latest sign that Beijing sees Moscow as an important part. of its own territorial ambitions, namely on Taiwan, but does not wish to be seen casting its fate with a government that has aroused so much outrage in the West.
The draft comes as Russia imposes so-called referendums from Friday in the four Ukrainian oblasts in eastern and southern Ukraine occupied by Russian forces – a move widely dismissed as an attempt to manufacture legitimacy from Moscow there.
And it represents a serious gamble as Putin moves away from a policy of insulating the general public from the harsher ripple effects of war.
“Part of the biggest unwritten social bargain between Putin and the Russian public is for the people to stay out of politics in exchange for relative prosperity and stability. This market is totally disrupted by the war,” wrote Max Bergmann, director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in an analysis column released Thursday. “The economy is starting to show signs of stress and now the public is forced to fight and die in a war it has no interest in. Meanwhile, the military incompetence and malpractice that has been exposed within of the Putin regime and worldwide isolation and loss of international prestige, will inevitably lead to growing anxiety within the Russian state.
“Instead of getting out of this quagmire, Putin, by announcing a military mobilization, bet on the future of his regime that he would manage to get through it,” Bergmann concluded. “It’s a bet he’s likely to lose.”