Comment: This is an abridged (by me) version of a Twitter thread by Kamil Galeev. His bio from the Wilson Center says this about him:
“Kamil Galeev is an independent researcher and a journalist residing in Moscow. His main focus of interest is the identity politics in post-Soviet Russia, the ethnification of Russian nationalism and the crackdown on the ethnic republics. Galeev completed a Master’s in Economics and Management at Peking University China and then an MLitt in History at St Andrews, the UK. He is an activist of political opposition, briefly incarcerated for participation in the 2020 protests.”
If he was writing these threads while still residing in Moscow, he’d have real stones… and would most assuredly be in a prison camp by now. I believe he’s safely in Washington DC right now. Nevertheless, he writes some interesting stuff. This piece deals with the question of Russian full military mobilization, how it developed, where it stands now and why it is unlikely to be invoked tomorrow.
May 9, the Victory Day is a crucial symbolic date. We should expect the Victory Parade and Putin’s speech to the nation on that day. What is he gonna say? Many are pondering whether he will:
1. Declare war on Ukraine
2. Declare mass mobilisation in Russia
Let’s start with the question – why Putin didn’t declare the war on Ukraine yet? Well, probably because he didn’t expect any serious resistance. Kremlin planned for another Czechoslovakia 1968 and was very much surprised it didn’t happen. Hence the “Special Operation” terminology. Planning for another pacification of an East European satellite state, Moscow unexpectedly got into a major war it didn’t prepare for. Since they didn’t prepare for a war, they declared neither a war, nor a martial law. Which had major consequences for the course of this war
Russian state policies may not be legal. But they absolutely are procedural. It is a machine acting according to an algorithm. More specifically, the war and the martial law are largely regulated by the algorithm described in 30.01.2002 г. № 1-ФКЗ. Which has not been activated. As the martial law algorithm was not activated, procedurally speaking Russia is now in peace. Thus all the peacetime procedures are still valid. In practical terms, it means that the army, the National Guard and other contractors can just leave their job. See Strelkov’s lament.
Many either leave their jobs or refuse to go to war. According to Russian media, dozens or hundreds of Krasnodar OMON, Crimean marines, Pskov airborne, soldiers from South Ossetia, Hakas National Guard refused to fight. Watch a dialogue of a National Guard boss with his fighters.
Some commanders try to destroy the record of the military who quit, putting special notes or stamps into their military IDs (военный билет), personnel files, etc. That however has little effect on your future unless you plan to work for the state. Besides, you can sue them.
Those troops who already departed to war and were later returned, refused to go again. For example, after the VDV were massacred in Ukraine, around 100 airborne from Pskov who were returned home from Belarus, refused to go to the war again. In practical terms that means that the ability of Russia to regroup, withdrawing its forces from the North (Kyiv) in order to send everyone to the East (Donbas) was probably exaggerated. Many of those who have already been to Ukraine and were returned to Russia simply won’t go again.
The situation with conscripts is a bit different. Technically sending conscripts to Ukraine is illegal. And yet, they did it of course. Russian state basically admitted it, and Putin ordered the military prosecutors to “investigate the case”. My prediction: no army boss will be punished. Putin using conscripts in a foreign war was very predictable. Since at least the New Year, the Soldiers Mothers NGO was getting tons of calls from concerned parents whose conscripted sons were transferred to the Ukrainian border. There were so many of them, it couldn’t be a drill.
“Go and take them from there” a secretary of the Soldiers’ Mothers would tell. “Or just tell them to run away, hide somewhere and write complaints to the military prosecutors”
“But not a single daughter of a bitch, not a single son of a bitch didn’t go anywhere” she concludes.
In other words, parents of conscripted soldiers could totally use the procedural nature of the Russian state to prevent their sons from being sent to Ukraine. Nobody did. Why? Partly because of the lack of agency. Russian state extirpated any forms of agency for centuries. The uprooted sense of agency and personal responsibility is an elephant in the room. After this war Russians will need a rehabilitation course to regain them again. But such a rehabilitation is incompatible with the existence of the Russian state which uprooted them in the first place.
Dismantling of the Russian state is necessary not only for preventing further attempts of imperial restoration and thus large military conflicts but as a necessary condition for a rehabilitation which would restore the sense of agency and personal responsibility.
Majority of the Russian population believe they can’t do anything, their personal actions have no impact and the best they can do is submit. Which is not wrong. In such massive empire their voice has no weight and no impact. Thus the empire must be dismantled to smaller polities.
Tsars, Communists, Putin, all worked hard to uproot the personal agency in Russia. Navalny and company will work even harder, should they take power. Dismantling the empire will scale the politics down which is a prerequisite for people regaining the feeling that their actions matter.
Interpreting Russian politics in terms of “Putin vs Russian people” dichotomy is an awful approach. Why? Because Putin is a subject while the “Russian people” are not. They are merely an abstraction that allows an autocrat and a gang of courtiers to legitimize their rule. “Russian people” doesn’t exist as a subject, it’s a tool for the legitimization of an autocracy. Right now Putin legitimized his power by pretending to represent the “Russian people” with no agency. Should the regime change happen, Navalny and his courtiers will do the same.
Now let’s return to the prospects of a total or partial mobilization which may be declared on May 9. The problem with the total mobilization is that Russia has no capacity to do it properly. The USSR could, while Russia absolutely can’t Soviet military doctrine was designed for the total mobilization. In practical terms it meant that the army and the military infrastructure was ready for the quick and enormous expansion of its ranks and the huge inflow of untrained or poorly trained conscripts.
The Soviet Army had way more officers in its divisions than it needed to lead the peacetime number of soldiers. Why? Because after the mobilization the ranks of the army (and of its divisions) would expand quickly and now it would need those extra officers to command new recruits.
Furthermore, the Soviet army maintained a costly infrastructure of training facilities (to train soldiers) and of military schools (to train officers). As the cadre officers would suffer heavy casualties, the USSR had to train new officers from civilians in those schools. Anecdotally, one Soviet artillery officer recalled how he was recruited. During the WWII a group of newly mobilised recruits were told to sit down and write “синус” (sinus). Those who wrote “sin” were sent to the officer schools, while those who couldn’t – to foot soldier ranks.
The Soviet Union maintained a massive infrastructure in case of a world war and mass mobilization. And yet, it was super costly and made little sense in the absence of such a war. Much of it declined in the 1990s and whatever remained was dismantled during the Serdyukov’s reforms. Minister Serdyukov launched a sensible reform to create a professional (contractor) army always ready for a conflict. In practice however it meant that the military doctrine changed and the new one didn’t include an option of a mass mobilization at all. Facilities to train the gargantuan number of soldiers and officers from recruits are closed. Extra officers in existing divisions who would lead those recruits into battle were fired. Many of cadre officers Russia still has are now in Ukraine and many are already KIA.
To sum up. Russia has the capacity to draft the enormous number of recruits via a mass mobilization. It has no capacity to train them, provide them with required equipment or with officers’ leadership. Which means that a mass mobilization would be a really dumb decision. Declaring a mass mobilization would be dumb. And yet, that does *not* mean that Putin wouldn’t do it. He can. As a general rule, prognosing a leader’s decisions based on “common sense” or on “logic” is largely counterproductive. A leader absolutely can do something dumb.