TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Advertisements promise cash bonuses and enticing benefits. Recruiters are making cold calls to eligible men. Enlistment offices are working with universities and social service agencies to lure students and the unemployed.
A new campaign is underway this spring across Russia, seeking recruits to replenish its troops for the war in Ukraine.
As fighting grinds on in Ukrainian battlegrounds like Bakhmut and both sides prepare for counteroffensives that could cost even more lives, the Kremlin's war machine badly needs new recruits.
A mobilisation in September of 300,000 reservists — billed as a “partial” call-up — sent panic throughout the country, since most men under 65 are formally part of the reserve. Tens of thousands fled Russia rather than report to recruiting stations.
The Kremlin denies that another call-up is planned for what it calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine, now more than a year old.
But amid widespread uncertainty of whether such a move will eventually happen, the government is enticing men to volunteer, either at makeshift recruiting centres popping up in various regions, or with phone calls from enlistment officials. That way, it can “avoid declaring a formal second mobilisation wave” after the first one proved so unpopular, according to a recent report by the US-based think tank Institute of the Study of War.
One Muscovite told The Associated Press that his employer, a state-funded organisation, gathered up the military registration cards of all male employees of fighting age and said it would get them deferments. But he said the move still sent a wave of fear through him.
“It makes you nervous and scared — no one wants to all of a sudden end up in a war with a rifle in their hands,” said the resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared reprisal. “The special operation is somewhat dragging on, so any surprises from the Russian authorities can be expected.”
It's been more than a week since he handed in his card, he said, and exemptions usually get resolved in a day or two, heightening his anxiety.
Russian media report that men across the country are receiving summonses from enlistment offices. In most of those cases, men were simply asked to update their records; in others, they were ordered to take part in military training.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said last week that serving summonses to update records in enlistment offices is “usual practice” and a “continued undertaking.”
Other unconfirmed media reports say authorities have told regional governments to recruit a certain number of volunteers. Some officials announced setting up recruitment centres with the goal of getting men to sign contracts that enable them to be sent into combat as professional soldiers.
Ads have appeared on government websites and on the social media accounts of state institutions and organisations, including libraries and high schools.
One of them, posted by a municipal administration in the western Yaroslavl region, promised a one-time bonus of about $3,800 to sign up, and if sent to Ukraine, a monthly salary of up to $2,500, plus about $100 a day for “involvement in active offensive operations,” and $650 “for each kilometre of advancement within assault teams.”
The ad said the soldier would also get tax and loan repayment breaks, preferential university admission status for his children, generous compensation for his family if he is wounded or killed in action, and the status of a war veteran, which carries even more perks.