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Will Russia launch another mobilization drive?

Alexandra Ivanova | Sergey Dik
January 11, 2023

There are signs that Russia is planning another offensive in Ukraine. Ukrainian officials and Russian experts now predict a second mobilization wave. How likely is this?

A Saint Petersburg billboard shows a Russian soldier and promotes Russia's armed forces
Is Russia gearing up for another mobilization?Image: Olga Maltseva/AFP/Getty Images

During his traditional evening address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Moscow plans to mobilize more troops for a major offensive. Shortly before New Year's Eve, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov had warned Russians the Kremlin was working on another conscription drive, planning to impose martial law and close the border to Russian men to prevent them from leaving. 

Russia's partial mobilization, launched on September 21, 2022, has not yet been officially concluded. This is only the case when Russian President Vladimir Putin designs a decree to this end, which so far he has not.

Ongoing mobilization

"We can see there is no decree to end the mobilization drive," says Sergei Krivenko, who heads Russia's Citizens, Army, Rights group, a human rights organization. "The first draft wave happened in October; this was no partial mobilization." He also says "there are reports that some people in regions of Russia are still being called up, maybe the defense ministry is trying to draft specialists — in any case, the mobilization is not over." Russian authorities have labeled his organization a "foreign agent."

Russian draft evaders seeking asylum fear being sent back

Krivenko draws attention to Russia's August 2022 decree to increase the number of Russian soldiers to 1.15 million. "Many experts had numbered Russian forces at around 800,000 — including conscripts, career soldiers, officers and those fighting in Ukraine," he says. "The autumn mobilization increased this number by 300,000."

In December 2022, however, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced the armed forces would be expanded to 1.5 million soldiers, says Krivenko. This would mean growing the armed forces by 400,000. "This is preparation for a mobilization, I think we should expect a second wave in late January or February."

Half of those freshly mobilized soldiers were sent to the front, the other was sent to training camps. "They underwent months of training," says Krivenko. "When the offensive begins that Putin and his defense minister talked about, these soldiers will be sent straight into battle. They will soon need reinforcements, so a second mobilization wave must begin now, so that the conscripts can be trained for several months."

Russian men passing into Georgia in September 2022
After the mobilization was announced in late September 2022, Russian men began fleeing to neighboring countries like Georgia to avoid the draftImage: Daro Sulakauri/Getty Images

All options on the table

In early December, Moscow military expert Ian Matveyev argued similarly, saying that "firstly, there are no clear signs the state has stopped the mobilization; it is keeping all options on the table." Adding that "secondly, there is a practical reason for this: Russian soldiers are dying in great numbers, or being wounded on the front, this applies especially to conscripts because they are poorly trained, so they need to be replaced."

Finally, he thinks Putin does not intend to end the war, saying that "he will continue, if nothing stops him, and he will need reserves for that, a major war like this needs a constant inflow of resources and people."

Half a million more Russian soldiers

"There will be a second, maybe even a third mobilization wave, because we will be forced to do this," Igor Girkin, the former "defense minister" of the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic said in late December. "To win in Ukraine, we will have to field at least half a million soldiers. Even without this determination to win we will need partial mobilizations." Russian political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky had shared a video of Girkin making these claims on his Telegram channel. According to Girkin, a second mobilization wave will ensue in January or on February 24, the one-year anniversary of the war.

Igor Girkin photographed in 2018
Igor Girkin is the the former military chief for Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine Image: Pavel Golovkin/AP/picture alliance

Russian officials, meanwhile, say no such plans exist. "I see no necessity for ordering a second mobilization stage in the coming six months," Andrey Gurulyov, a member of the Duma defense committee, told chita.ru online outlet. He added that "there are no requirements and conditions in place for this, even those who were called up earlier have not all been sent to fight, and our industry must be capable of making possible a second mobilization drive, and in my opinion it will be inefficient to do this in the next six months."

This article was originally written in Russian.