26 September 2022
On the 21st of September, President Putin announced in a televised address that 300,000 reservists in Russia would be called upon to serve with the Russian armed forces inside Ukraine. For many Russians, Putin’s address has caused uncertainty, distress, and intense dread – their experiences remind us why Anti-War efforts are more necessary than ever.
‘We have three to four days to decide what to do. After that, they will shut the borders.’ I’m speaking with Altna, a friend from Russia’s Kalmykia region. When Putin announced partial mobilisation on Wednesday, the future for the men in her life became dark. Under the new decree, her friends and boyfriend could be conscripted into the military reserves at any moment. For others conscripted to the reserves earlier this year, like her brother, it isn’t known if they will go to the front this coming week. Her brother married recently and has three young children. Those men are now faced with an immensely difficult choice.
In the next few days, they can escape to another country, or remain inside Russia and pray that Military Police do not come knocking. ‘Me and my boyfriend will visit my mother, and then we are going abroad.’ Gulnara, A friend from a Tartar background residing in Saint Petersburg, tells me. Previously, Gulnara had taken part in Anti-War protests when the War broke out. However, the rumours that those arrested at protests are being sent to the front with immediate effect are enough to convince them that attending protests is no longer a worthwhile risk. ‘They are just taking people from the streets and sending them to the war; it is extremely unsafe.’
For others, that opportunity to cross Russia’s borders is limited. ‘I think we may well be about to become refugees, and now we are thinking through what we need to take with us.’ Altna tells me. Her family does not have more than a few months’ worth of savings; they are trying to sell one of the tractors on her family farm to raise funds. They can only use flight paths to states allowing visa free entry, as some in their family do not have a zagranpasport (a passport for international travel). Armenia and Kazakhstan are the most realistic choices, and it is uncertain if they will be able to stay in those countries for the long term.
For some, moving to another country is incomprehensible. Altna tells me about a friend, who refuses to leave his new family behind despite the danger of conscription. For others, the move is impossible. ‘I messed up my chance to get out in the spring’. I’m speaking with Mikhail, a friend from Tver region. He had an offer to escape to Poland and sleep on a sofa after the war started but decided not to take it. He has no savings, and no contacts abroad. Mikhail plans to use a medical condition to avoid conscription if the situation arises. Whether that will work is uncertain.
There are widespread fears that the number of reserves being sent to the front will far exceed the original 300,000 announced; the real figure may be closer to one million. There are also rumours that minority groups like Buryats, Kalmyks, and Tartars will be disproportionately selected for service under Putin’s partial mobilisation.
The stories of average citizens demonstrate how deeply Russians have been shaken by Putin’s announcement of partial mobilisation. Not only has partial mobilisation created extreme fear amongst Russians, but the latest round of conscription has threatened their right to assembly and discriminated against minority groups. Without immediate results, activists may become disillusioned with peaceful Anti-War activity. The introduction of partial mobilisation should serve as a big reminder to activists in the West and inside Russia of the very necessity to double down on Anti-War efforts. Without these efforts, it will be a given that Russian people will continue to live in fear and uncertainty.
The names of the people in this article have been changed to protect their identities.