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Russia's partial mobilization: Conscripts report chaos

Sergey Satanovskiy
September 30, 2022

Numerous reports indicate Russia's partial mobilization has been disorganized and arbitrary. DW spoke to some who received draft notices even though they should not have.

Conscripts being drafted in Krasnodar in Russia
Conscripts being drafted in Krasnodar in RussiaImage: AP/dpa/picture alliance

Russian pensioners, men with disabilities, and individuals without military training, or even combat experience are reportedly receiving conscription notices to serve in Russia's armed forces in the war in Ukraine. DW was able to confirm these reports by speaking to individuals within Russia about how recruitment offices are going about drafting soldiers.

It has been a week since Russian President Putin declared a "partial mobilization" and already thousands of Russian men have been conscripted into the armed forces to fight in Ukraine. Russian-based observers say the call-up does not always follow the specifications set out by Russia's Defense Ministry.

Draft rule violations

"The notice arrived Sunday noon; my husband had to report to the recruitment office by 2 p.m. that same day," says the wife of 39-year-old Igor [for security reasons, DW is using pseudonyms for everyone referenced in this article]. "He was registered, told to hand over his paperwork, and put on a bus to receive training by 5:30 p.m."

Technically, Igor's rank as a reserve sergeant and his age should have spared him conscription. Officially, men of this rank older than 35, are not subject to the "partial mobilization" order. This was set out by Russia's Defense Ministry after Putin announced the call-up. Even so, Igor, who lives in Moscow, was conscripted along with some 120 other men, all of whom are technically too old to serve.

Reservists stand outside a recruitment office in Russia's Omsk region
Reservists stand outside a recruitment office in Russia's Omsk regionImage: Alexey Malgavko/REUTERS

In addition, Igor's wife reports, those drafted did not receive a medical checkup at the recruitment office to determine whether they are fit to serve, even though the mobilization law requires this. Igor's military role was changed, too. "His military ID states he is a border cavalryman," says his wife. "Now he has been assigned the role of artillery gunner." Despite these violations, she says her husband will not contest the call-up.

Sent home after formal complaint

In some instances, falsely conscripted men have been sent back home. This occurred to a 43-year-old Moscow-based reservist without combat experience. "This happens because conscription offices are causing chaos by sending out draft notices at random, I had this confirmed speaking to various hotlines," said the man's wife, Oksana. 

She filed a complaint and then visited the conscription office to get her husband released. It worked. "He is now on his way home from the city of Serpukhov." She cannot say for certain whether her complaint "to all authorities" secured her husband's release, or if someone at the recruitment office realized a mistake had been made.

More conscripts than needed?

Konstantin, an actor from the city of Chelyabinsk southeast of the Ural mountains, had a similar experience. He received a phone call from the head of the village council where he is officially registered, though does not live, saying he would be drafted. Konstantin, however, only served in the army for one year, and lacks combat experience.

One day after the phone call, he was relieved to learn he would not be drafted after all. "As far as I understand they have enough people, there were long lines outside the recruitment office," says Konstantin. "My friend got a draft notice and was waiting outside the office, but when it was his turn [to enter], they said he was not needed."

A Russian serviceman stands beside a mobile recruitment center in Rostov-on-Don
A Russian serviceman stands beside a mobile recruitment center in Rostov-on-DonImage: Sergey Pivovarov/REUTERS

Konstantin says he would have refused to serve even if the recruitment office had failed to meet its draft quota. "If I knew what I was fighting for I might have showed up and heeded the conscription notice, but this is not like the Great Patriotic War," he says. "In a situation like that, everything would have been clear [for me]. But today's situation is strange."

Legal action

Alexander Belik, a lawyer with Russia's "Conscientious Objector Movement," draws attention to discrepancies between Putin's mobilization order and specifications set out by Russia's Defense Ministry. "No changes were made to the president's decree, which had no age limit for the mobilization," says Belik.  

"They [authorities] catch anyone they can get without doing a medical checkup; this means they are drafting those who were deemed fit to serve many years ago," says the legal expert. He tells anyone seeking advice to simply ignore the draft notice, even if this could lead to an administrative fine of 3,000 rubles (€53, $50).

He also recommends that anyone enrolled in vocational training and unwilling to serve in the army should apply for civil service, and leave the military training area as fast as possible. "Afterwards, you need to take legal action against the recruitment office and the respective commission tasked with the mobilization," he adds.

Putin admits 'mistakes' in reservists call-up

Administrative reshuffle

Several Russian governors have admitted that recruitment offices have made mistakes in drafting reservists. They have pledged to undo these errors and send anyone home who has been mistakenly drafted.

In northeast Russia's Magadan oblast, military commissioner Sergey Baranowsky lost his job after making mistakes in the "partial mobilization," says regional governor Sergey Nosov. He requested that Baranowsky be replaced. Now, a "professional officer is in charge, who has restored order at the recruitment office," says Nosov.

This article was originally published in Russian.