Five months into Russia's war on Ukraine, the Kremlin still hasn’t decreed a general mobilization to draft troops for its invasion, but there are growing reports that it is enticing and pressuring men of fighting age to join, as well as leaning on younger conscripts to sign contracts so they can deploy to the front.
In Bashkortostan -- a Russian republic located some 1,300 kilometers east of Moscow -- many parents of conscripts have launched appeals to the local military prosecutor's office over complaints that their sons were illegally detained at the conscription office and were told that they would be sent to Rostov, a Russian region that borders eastern Ukraine.
According to four different families who spoke to RFE/RL’s Tatar-Bashkir Service, conscription offices in the region have proceeded quickly and cut corners in the recruitment process and also taken the unexpected steps of sending the Bashkortostan conscripts to units in Rostov, instead of to areas nearer to home and away from the front lines, as had been previously stated.
The swift actions and break in protocol have left many parents fearing that their sons may be persuaded into signing on as contract soldiers and joining the Russian war in neighboring Ukraine.
“My son was taken into the army all of the sudden, not even allowing him to finish his law diploma,” Alla Papusova, the mother of Dmitry Malyshev, who was drafted in Russia’s current conscription cycle, told RFE/RL. “They said that on the morning of July 3 that he would be sent to the Rostov region, although initially they said that [the conscripts] would be sent to serve in the Chelyabinsk region,” in south-central Russia near the border with Kazakhstan.
Russia is in the process of conducting its spring draft, which seeks to conscript approximately 130,000 men between the ages of 18-27 by the middle of July.
Moscow has not introduced mass mobilization of fighting age men since invading Ukraine on February 24, because it has not officially declared itself at war. Under Russian law, conscripts can’t be sent to Ukraine unless they have at least four months of training. The Kremlin has said repeatedly it won’t deploy conscripts to Ukraine, but there have been several confirmed cases of them being sent into combat during the campaign.
As Russian casualties have risen, Moscow has turned increasingly to professional and contract soldiers, as well as those from private security and military companies, to replenish its ranks. Russian recruiting offices have been intensifying their efforts of late to reactivate reservists and attract new soldiers, as well as reportedly leaning on conscripts to sign contracts to deploy to Ukraine as professional soldiers, despite receiving minimal training.
“We’re afraid that he will be forced to sign a contract while he’s [in Rostov] and then end up in Ukraine,” Papusova said.
Growing Conscription Pressure
Along with Dmitry Malyshev’s parents, other families from across Bashkortostan have appealed to the military prosecutor’s office in Ufa, the provincial capital, to request an intervention about the situation of their sons. Many of the conscripts are also university students and should be allowed to defer military service until their studies are completed.
In several statements made to the office, which were seen by RFE/RL, the parents indicated that they did not agree with the decision by the draft commission, since their sons had deferments from being drafted into the army due to their studies. Families of the recruits also demanded that their sons be allowed to leave the enlistment office once they'd answered their summons and not immediately be sent off for their service, and also to grant them the opportunity to challenge where they would be sent.
“We demand that our sons and grandchildren be given the opportunity to serve on the territory of Bashkortostan,” Ilshat Rafikov, who submitted a statement to the prosecutor’s office after his grandson Timur was drafted and informed he would be sent to Rostov, told RFE/RL. “The military prosecutor told us that they would raise this issue and bring our opinion to the attention of the military registration and enlistment offices.”
Vera Popova, who is a distant relative of a conscript, joined the families at the prosecutor’s office and was part of a small picket over the alleged mistreatment of draftees.
Everyone knows that there have already been cases of sending conscripts to participate in fighting [in Ukraine] before.”-- Vil Tukhvatullin, For Alternative Civil Service
During the picket, the families in attendance demanded that the military registration and enlistment office provide the conscripts with the opportunity to sign powers of attorney so that their relatives can represent their interests in court.
The families also tried to hand over statements addressed to the military commissar of Bashkortostan to the officers on duty, but they initially refused to accept them.
“Until we put our hands on the window and said that we would not remove them, the duty officers refused to even call the authorities,” Popova told RFE/RL.
The relatives in attendance were eventually given a meeting with the commissar, where Aleksandr Fedorov, whose son Nikita was drafted, was told that his son would now be sent to Vladikavkaz, a city in southeastern Russia and the regional capital of North Ossetia. Fedorov told RFE/RL that he was satisfied with the outcome.
Papusova also said that she was promised a change from Rostov to another place of service for her son but was not given time to launch an appeal to delay his service due to his studies.
The military commissar of Bashkortostan’s office did not respond to RFE/RL’s questions regarding conscription practices and asked that media enquiries be sent by fax or mail.
Vil Tukhvatullin, the director of the watchdog organization For Alternative Civil Service, said that they have seen evidence of multiple violations of the law by enlistment offices in Bashkortostan, including multiple instances of attempting to dispatch conscripts directly from the office to their unit.
He added that he believes the rushed actions are the result of growing political pressure for Russian regions to meet aggressive conscription quotas, despite a growing number of draftees not returning to enlistment offices or responding to their summons in the first place.
“How the situation will actually develop on the spot, no one can say,” Tukhvatullin told RFE/RL. “Everyone knows that there have already been cases of sending conscripts to participate in fighting [in Ukraine] before.”
The Western Front
The exact death toll for Russian forces in Ukraine is unknown. Moscow gave a total of 1,351 troops killed on March 25, but has not updated the figure since.
Ukrainian and Western military experts say Russia has suffered heavy losses in the war, but their estimates vary. Kyiv claims to have killed more than 35,000 Russian soldiers, while figures given by NATO and the United Kingdom put the Russian death toll at around 15,000-20,000 troops.
Whatever the exact number, the casualties have had a drastic effect on the state of Russia’s military, says Dara Massicot, a senior researcher at the U.S.-based RAND think tank and a former senior analyst at the Pentagon.
“In the short term, they're clearly scraping from wherever they can to avoid [full-scale] mobilization,” she told RFE/RL. “I think it's a pretty bad sign for the health of Russia's professional enlisted fighting force that we're five months into this conflict and they're already going to these particular lengths to recruit troops.”
In comments made by Russian President Vladimir Putin during a regional summit in Turkmenistan on June 29, he defended his so-called “special military operation” in Ukraine and insisted that Russian forces were in no hurry to end the war.
“The work is going smoothly, rhythmically,” Putin said. “There is no need to talk about the timing.”
Massicot says that despite the looming manpower issues facing Russia’s military and the damage inflicted by Ukrainian troops, the Kremlin still appears to be moving forward with its current political and military objectives for Ukraine.
“When I look at the different policy decisions that they're making inside Russia, I think that they believe they can still achieve their aims,” she said.