Fortitude of Russian Soldier in War of Conquest: What Mobilization Reveals

By starting the mobilization, Putin’s regime admitted that it was defeated by Ukraine at this stage of the full-scale conflict. Russians, even those who do not want it, will be massively forced to go to a war of conquest and die in Ukraine. The mobilization that Russia has announced for the first time since 1941 is indeed like agony. Putinism has driven Russia into a situation where it is to face either a blatant military defeat now or a postponed collapse of the political system provoked by realizing the absurdity and futility of all the sacrifices.   

If until now many Russians could afford not to notice that their country had unleashed an aggressive war, now that the draft notice can be served to almost every Russian family, this matter has become acute. What to die for? What is this war for? Was it Russia that was attacked, or was it the Putin regime that unreasonably attacked a neighbouring country without calculating its forces?

The announcement of the mobilization triggered honesty on the part of the propagandists. We learned what we guessed — the morale and fighting qualities of the Russian army in the war against Ukraine are rather low.  

Propagandist Kots (like Prilepin before) admitted that in fact part of the military refused to fight: “Someone just got scared, someone said honestly that he could not solve the problem by the means available to him, someone simply had no motivation: ‘Why die for someone else’s land?’”

The “Vot Tak” project  published photos of the reports with a request of resignation, which were written by the Russian military. These documents were seized on August 30, 2022, at the Russian headquarters of the Izium group. 

One of the reports bears the name of the commander of the military unit 31135 (Motor Rifle Division in the “elite” Taman Division) Sergeant Azhgaliyev. A person with such a name and initials got into the “Book of Executioners of the Ukrainian People” database for his participation in the attack on Ukraine. 

“I ask you to dismiss me, the commander of the 2nd anti-aircraft missile department of the 2nd anti-aircraft missile platoon of the anti-aircraft missile battery Sergeant Azhgaliyev I.O. from the ranks of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation due to physical and moral fatigue from participation in the SMO on the territory of Ukraine,” writes a 28-year-old native of Saratov region. 

So, the refusal of the military to participate in the SMO, the losses and the escape in Kharkiv region scared the Kremlin. And it had to try to solve the problems of “crackdown” and mobilization. The lack of motivation was to be overcome by calling the occupied Ukraine Russia. 

“Today, the situation is radically changing. There are no moral or legal loopholes for cowardice. Now we will live by the laws of wartime. And bear responsibility for our actions as well. For this purpose, new provisions are introduced in the Criminal Code — on desertion, non-compliance with orders, looting… To this end, we will soon add new territories — now there can be no questions for whose land we are fighting there. For ours. And there can be no illusions. If we cede at least an inch, they will not stop,” writes the Russian “war correspondent” Kots. 

The Kremlin regime has been saying for years that Ukrainians are not able and will not fight because this is a “fake country,” and in reality, the Russian army turned out to be unable to fulfil the task. This is what pride leads to. 

The Kremlin fears a repeat of history when the Russian army in World War I was propagandized by revolutionary forces and refused to fight, as one of Putin’s favourite historical characters, Anton Denikin, wrote. Therefore, additions were made to the Criminal Code, which introduce penalties for surrendering, desertion, non-compliance with orders, and refusal to fight. 

It is not known how a Russian soldier, who signed a short-term contract, will react to the change of the “rules of the game” by the regime. Neither is it known how soldiers or those mobilized will behave after realizing that Russia is almost the only country in the world that prohibits its soldiers from surrendering and threatens to imprison for it.

According to the Kremlin, this should solve the problem of the Russian army’s lack of resilience. Propagandist Solovyov said this: “Signing a contract does not mean going to the training grounds to shoot in the peacetime and refusing to participate in a special military operation! No, you can’t just run away. Are you a coward? Got scared? Now, you will be punished for it. A great deal. If you dodge the draft, you get a serious, real prison term for it. So that there are no more such stories as near Kharkiv.”

Crackdown and patriotic engagement of Russians in fake referendums, “this is now Russia,” and we are fighting for our land are a mix of ingredients that will have an unknown impact on the morale of the army and the invasion at the next stage of the war.  

The new referenda negate the notion of Russia’s territorial inviolability. After all, if today some territory easily becomes “Russian,” then tomorrow, just as easily, another region may cease to be Russian. There are two sides to this moon. 

By the way, the emergence of regional formations in Russia, in addition to the army of Kadyrov, only brings closer the moment of the upsurge of political ambitions of the Russian subjects. For example, according to the Russian websiteVersia.ru, regional self-identification was important: “…in Tatarstan, two battalions are created at once — “Alga” and “Timer” (from Tatar — “Forward” and “Iron”). They are supposed to be formed only from the natives of Tatarstan so that the countrymen would hold on to each other. Meanwhile, the Atal communications battalion in Chuvash (from Chuvash — Volga) registers only residents of the republic with knowledge of the Chuvash language.”   

The authoritarian Russian system can lie to people about the threat posed by “Nazis” and NATO, but it is difficult to effectively motivate people to wage a long-range war of aggression. 

The potential for inspiration in Putinism is well illustrated by Kadyrov’s publication following the announcement of mobilization, when he called people who don’t want to kill and die in Ukraine traitors and second-hand people. “I am talking to you, the one trying to avoid the army. You can invent various excuses. You can say that you do not support the current policy. You can make up a pretty story that the idea of war and the concept of weapons are alien to you, or that you simply do not accept violence. But you should know, you are nothing but a coward, a traitor and a second-class person.”

Thus, the Kremlin, just like in World War II, is trying to win by sheer numbers. It should be added that from the military standpoint, a new influx of fighters, even bad ones, is of course a challenge for Ukraine’s defence forces. At the same time, the number of Russians who will really want to understand the “Ukrainian issue” for themselves and will feel that the regime has unscrupulously lied for years about the war in Ukraine, which it unleashed by itself, will also increase. Part of the mobilized soldiers will fight and die in Ukraine. Some will sabotage orders and surrender at the first opportunity. There were both categories among those mobilized from Donetsk and Luhansk regions

Putin’s regime needs the pseudo-referenda to continue shameless mobilization of residents in the occupied territories of Ukraine and send them to fight against their own country, violating the IHL and intending to record this war in history as “a civil war.” 

As for the morale of the rank-and-file Russian officers, they cannot help but see that this war — with mass killing of civilians, looting, torture, and violence — has disgraced the Russian army. To be fair, some say that the honour of Russian officers should have been forgotten immediately after the killings in Ilovaisk. The executions of civilians in Bucha, Izium, and many other cities, which took place with the knowledge of the officers, confirm this.  

The terror which served as the basis of the Bolsheviks’ power remains relevant a hundred years later. Evident recruitment of people with outstanding criminal convictions for private military companies has shown that Russia has no rules even for one of its main pillars, the army. Following 2014, Russian propaganda span stories about the “private army of oligarch Kolomoiskyi” — but instead, Russia obtained a private army of prisoners for Prigozhin.

Russian “military correspondents” point out overstrain and problems with stimulators: “during long combat work, various stimulators are used today.” Could it be an explanation for the abnormal behaviour of Russian soldiers?

Citing American officials, NYT reports that Putin has recently started more active interference in the conduct of the war — among other things, he rejected the military personnel’s proposal to withdraw from the right bank of Kherson oblast to avoid encirclement. Before the war, Putin was also warned by the military that capture of the entire Ukraine with available forces was unrealistic, but he ignored them. Therefore, the tension between the military and the commander-in-chief is one of the factors in this war which cannot but affect the morale of the army.  

The Ukrainian army has a psychological advantage because it is waging a fair war. The democratically elected leadership has a solid margin of legitimacy. The civilized world supports the country. The Ukrainian army conducts rotations more often, which provides the necessary rest. It is better equipped than the Russian one and has better food options and medical care. 

“Mobilization, are we doing the right thing by going this way? Yes. We don’t have as many fighters. Fresh forces are needed, and we will begin to rotate our divisions and brigades, which have been fighting ceaselessly for seven months. It will be much easier for current fighters and newcomers than it was in the February debut,” explains Sladkov. 

However, when the Russians return home from the unjust war, they will take some injustice with them, to Russia. Hundreds of thousands of people “soiled” in crimes without consent by the regime will go back to civilian lives and commit crimes, now in Russia. And this is the main thing that its residents fail to understand.  

The unexpected resistance of Ukrainians, the heavy losses and the failure in the Kharkiv direction undermined the morale of Putin’s army, which the regime is trying to compensate with mobilization. 

In this situation, information work done by Ukraine and its partners becomes one of the key factors in curbing Ruscism, which has weaponized lies and threatens the world due to its unstoppable desire to dominate.  

President Zelenskyy also felt this moment to be special and addressed Russians in their language, urging them not to partake in mobilization, to fight against the Kremlin regime, and to surrender. He also urged Ukrainians under occupation to sabotage mobilization and provide information to Ukraine.   

How will Russians respond when their relatives and friends, mobilized by force, will start getting captured? Will they finally realize that their true enemy is the dictator?  It can be assumed that the response will be stronger than it was when mostly professional army was involved. 

A Ukrainian military servant will remain a hero in the eyes of history, and his or her country — a hero who defended their home and who strives to change the world for the better. But how will history see a Russian occupier? 

And when Russian soldiers rest before their next deployment to the war zone, they will have time to think and ask themselves the same simple questions. What are they dying for? What is the point of this war? Did Ukraine attack Russia, or did Russia attack Ukraine?

Centre for Strategic Communication and Information Security

The media version of the article is available on Glavcom

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