For Russians, the war suddenly reaches home

By CARLOS SAPIR

At the outset of the Russian invasion of Ukraine seven months ago, the Russian government and media told its citizens that this was not a real war, and that their plan, depending on the exact day, to either “denazify” Ukraine or to prevent it from joining NATO, would be rapidly accomplished. While major Western corporations pulled out of Russia in response, daily life for most Russian citizens did not change much, and news of the “special operation” disappeared from the Russian news cycle, with the only exception being the dissident publications operating outside of Russia or on Telegram.

The Russian status quo was flipped on its head last week when, following several days of breakthrough Ukrainian military victories near Kharkiv, Russian president Putin suddenly announced that Russia would initiate a “partial mobilization” of 300,000 reservists, the largest conscription effort in Russia since World War II and the largest Russian mobilization for a war of aggression since the Tsarist era. Panic descended, as Russian men fearing further increases of the draft rushed for visa-free borders and international flights, with the latter destinations consistently selling out since the announcement of the “partial mobilization.”

Reports from the now-exiled Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta suggest that the actual current order of conscription may be 1 million reservists, more than three times the public announcement, and the scattered available reports of on-the-ground conscription efforts across the country confirm that several hundreds of thousands have already been mobilized.

While some Russians flee the country, others have taken up the struggle against their government and organized antiwar and anti-draft protests, which in turn have been met with severe repression from the Russian authorities. The Russian Socialist Movement (Российское социалистическое движение) has reported on their Telegram channel, which actively provides resources to and mobilizes antiwar activists, that thousands were arrested at protests on the first night following the mobilization decree, with hundreds more to follow each day since. Protests have also been accompanied by arson attacks against military conscription sites across Russia.

Announced in tandem with plans for “referendums” for annexation in Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine, it seems that this mobilization is a desperate attempt to hold on to what remains of Russia’s territorial conquest and present it as a “win” for Putin’s government (although publicly the Russian government continues to repeat the same absurd mantra of “denazification” and regime change that it has insisted on since early 2022). Even with such a limited war goal, it is unclear that the current mobilization plans will do much to change the course of the war in Ukraine; compared to the troops that have been recently routed by Ukrainian forces, the new Russian conscripts will be objectively worse-trained, worse-equipped, with less motivation to fight, and facing a better-armed and better-organized Ukrainian military.

The Russian Socialist Movement has reported that the conscription drive may also double as a de-facto ethnic cleansing campaign, disproportionately drafting non-Slavic ethnic minorities in Dagestan, Buryatia, and Yakutia. Putin’s announcement of the mobilization also came with a new round of threats to use nuclear force to defend “Russian land” that now presumably includes the captured Ukrainian territory occupied by the Russian military, a stark reminder of the need for wholesale nuclear disarmament of the worlds’ imperialist arsenals before inter-imperial conflict risks destroying life as we know it.

The unpopularity of the mobilization further threatens to destabilize Putin’s rule. In addition to the pressure of domestic dissatisfaction and a demoralized military, Russia’s desperate attempts to recruit soldiers for its armies has seen recruiters courting citizens of Russia’s former-Soviet Central Asian neighbors, luring recruits with promises of a fast-track to Russian citizenship. While it is unclear how many soldiers have actually been recruited this way, it has been enough to panic even the historically pro-Putin ruling class of Uzbekistan, with calls to distance themselves from Russian influence growing in strength, all while Russia pulls the majority of is Central Asian military presence to reinforce its Ukrainian front. The failure of the Russian military in Ukraine may soon lead to the collapse of Russian hegemony in Central Asia.

While there is no telling how the Russian invasion of Ukraine will end, the tasks of socialists today are clear. We must continue to support both the Ukrainian resistance and the Russian antiwar movement in their struggle against the Russian state’s attempt to reconquer the Tsarist empire, and to form ties of solidarity with working-class organizations engaged in this struggle, helping them build the organizations needed to defeat capitalism both in their own countries and on an international scale.

Arms for the Ukrainian resistance! U.S. and Russia: Nuclear disarmament now! For the revolutionary defeat of all imperialist powers!

Photo:  Police arrest an antiwar protester in Moscow on Sept. 21, following Putin’s call for a military mobilization. (Alexander Nemenov / Getty Images)

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