The last week of September has been no less momentous than the final days of February. Defeat in the Kharkiv region and the strain on personnel in Russia’s standing army forced the Kremlin to abandon its idea of a “special operation” conducted by “professional soldiers.”
In the past week, the pro-Russian administrations of Ukraine’s partially occupied territories – Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporozhye regions – announced fast-track referendums on formally joining the Russian Federation. Polling began on Sept. 23 and is due to finish on Sept. 27. There are no doubts about the outcome. State news agencies reported in advance that the regions may formally join Russia on Sept. 30. That same day, President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to give his next major speech: an address to the Federation Council. All the apocalyptic rumors currently sweeping the country — border closures, martial law, a major escalation in Ukraine — are tied to these dates.
Within days of the first reports of referendums, Putin signed a “partial” mobilization order for Russia. While the authorities are using every possible means to suggest that only a small number of men will be involved, the paragraph of Putin’s decree that specifies the precise number of conscripts remains classified. On Sept. 21, Putin himself repeatedly said only “people with military experience” would be called up. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, said that “300,000 reservists” would be called up in a separate speech. However, according to Russian law, this expression applies solely to people who signed specific contracts, meaning Shoigu’s words are very much open to interpretation.
An analysis of the cautious statements of Putin, Shoigu and other officials reveals that even the official statements from the authorities could be used to call up almost any Russian man. Only the elderly, full-time students and the terminally ill are guaranteed exemptions.
Apart from Shoigu’s statement, there are no concrete numbers for mobilization. Russian independent media have cited various sources who give different estimates of the figures in the classified paragraph of Putin’s order. Novaya Gazeta reported a million people, Meduza suggested 1.2 million. Thus far, though, the information cannot be verified.
However, several Russian regions have announced their official quotas for mobilization. These range from 1,000 to 8,000 people. According to unofficial figures, the quota for Moscow’s 12-million strong official population is 16,000 people. Extrapolating these figures across the entire population, we reach a number close to the official 300,000. However, Meduza’s sources claim that most draft papers will be sent out in rural areas, rather than in big cities with a high likelihood of protests.