On September 21, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the first large-scale military mobilization since World War II.
In a televised address, he said the draft was needed to protect the country and its territorial integrity.
The announcement sparked demonstrations and attacks on recruitment centers across the country and led to the arrest of some 2,400 people, according to OVD-Info, a prominent protest monitoring agency.
There was chaos in the mobilization deployment.
Reports that people ineligible for mobilization, including fathers of four or more children, people with disabilities, or those over the age limit for conscription, have been notified by the military, sparking public outrage and sparking public outrage. Rare clutter. Criticism from government officials.
Hundreds of thousands of Russians have been looking for a way out, fleeing to border crossings with neighbouring countries to flee and avoid conscription.
Some 260,000 men reportedly traveled abroad in the first four days after the announcement. In a survey conducted by the Levada Center, an independent pollster, nearly half of respondents said they were terrified after the mobilization was announced, while 13 percent expressed anger.
According to reports, thousands of people who were transferred were deemed unfit for duty and returned home.
Analysts say that while protests have subsided following a harsh crackdown by the authorities, the mobilization and ongoing setbacks for the war in Ukraine could have significant political ramifications.
Putin’s popularity could take a hit and his grip on power could weaken as tensions rise between factions in the political elite.
Mobilization ‘too late’
After the so-called “Crimea effect” subsided, Russian troops began a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in late February, at a time when Putin’s approval ratings were facing a decline. The term refers to his notable surge in popularity after Russia occupied and annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2014.
The relatively quick and bloodless takeover of foreign territories eight years ago pushed his approval rating from about 60 percent to nearly 90 percent. The February invasion had a similar effect, boosting viewership from 65% to 80%.
But a failure to achieve a quick victory, recent setbacks on the front lines and now unpopular mobilization could fuel dissatisfaction with the Russian government and Putin himself.
In September, opinion polls showed his approval rating dropping to 77 percent.
What’s more, the mobilization in response to Ukraine’s successful counteroffensive may not bring about the dramatic battlefield reversal that would gather the public around the Russian president.
“I do not think so [the Russian mobilisation] will change the course of this war because it’s a little too late and maybe too little,” Conrad Muzka, a defense analyst and director of Rochan Consulting, told Al Jazeera.
According to Muzka, the Russian military will face various challenges when deploying new recruits, not only because of their limited experience, but also because the military cannot solve logistical problems, including providing proper equipment, weapons and even food.
Even before the draft, there were reports of low morale in the Russian army. Rushing conscripts into the field without adequate training or equipment is likely to fuel discontent among the army’s grassroots.
Mobilization also does not compensate for other major problems, such as the consumption of heavy weapons and ammunition. Reported imports from Iran and North Korea are also unlikely to help, Muzyka said.
‘Breach of promise’
The prospect of more military defeats and the prospect of Russian civilians dying in the war added to public anxiety following the mobilization order.
Some 88 percent of respondents to the Levada Center poll said they were concerned about the war in Ukraine, up from 74 percent in August.
The Russian government tried to embellish the draft with language it used to justify the full-scale invasion in February, referring to a fight against Nazism and an existential confrontation with the West, but this time, it did not help win public support or appease fears.
“When Putin compared it to World War II [mobilisation], he was joking. I don’t think this information is selling well in Russia,” Sergey Lachenko, the Wilson E Schmidt Distinguished Professor at Johns Hopkins University, told Al Jazeera.
Putin’s legitimacy also appears to be shaking.
The mobilization has brought the war closer to home for many Russians, who see the president as a leader who ensures stability, provides socioeconomic comfort and reasserts the country’s status as a great power.
According to Anton Barbashin, political analyst and editorial director of Riddle Russia, Russian popular participation on this scale reflects “the discredit of Putin’s foreign policy” – that his foreign military ventures will not enter Russian homes .
But in Barbassin’s view, the Russians’ growing concerns are unlikely to spark mass unrest. Losing legitimacy will lead to increased state violence to increase fear and control over the population, he said.
Tensions within the political elite
While political repression could intensify in the near future, this loss of legitimacy could weaken Putin’s grip on power and his ability to balance various vested interests and conflicting groups within the political elite.
Frustration within Russia’s political elite has come to the fore in recent days as public criticism of the conscription issue and the failure of the war has intensified.
Public figures close to Putin, including Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and businessman Yevgeny Prigozin, have publicly attacked the Defense Ministry. Retired Lieutenant General Andrei Gurureyev also accused the army leadership of “lying” and submitting false reports that the situation on the front was good.
In late September, an undersecretary of defense for logistics was fired, joining a handful of others who have been dismissed in recent months for perceived failures.
Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has only recently appeared at public events, prompting speculation about a disagreement between him and Putin.
There have also been reports in Western media that senior Russian military leaders are increasingly dissatisfied with the president’s decision.
Gulnaz Sharafutdinova, professor of Russian politics at King’s College London, said the war could exacerbate systemic weaknesses and tensions.
“There is no one-to-one correspondence between victory in Ukraine and the survival of the regime. [But] If Russia loses, the odds of survival do decrease,” she told Al Jazeera.
“Challenges may come from different sources, but are most likely related to more radical groups and leaders using force (with the military backing them) [such as] Kadyrov [and] Prigozin. “
Unlike all other regional leaders in Russia, Kadyrov commands a unit loyal to him, independent of the Russian military. He gained Putin’s public recognition for their role in the war.
Prigozin, known as “Putin’s cook”, was the founder of the Wagnerian mercenary regiment and was personally involved in the recruitment of the war.
The presence of Kadyrov’s army in Ukraine has sparked tensions with the regular army.
Recently, some members of the group were accused of raping two soldiers who had been transferred from local residents in the occupied Donetsk region to fight alongside the Russian army.
According to Radchenko, while a palace coup against Putin is unlikely due to his loyal supporters, it is not impossible.
“Given our historical understanding of how these things happened, we can be sure that there are a lot of people behind the scenes who are unhappy with Putin’s rule,” he said. “If they decide to take action against him, the involvement of the military will be crucial.”
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