Opposition protests, transportation disruptions and various security incidents, including sporadic acts of vandalism or arson, are likely to continue across Russia in response to President Vladimir Putin’s September 21 executive order ordering a partial military mobilization in the country. The directive comes amid a series of setbacks on the battlefield of Moscow’s war in Ukraine. Although the text of the directive sets no limit on the number of people who can be called up, Russian defense officials initially plan to activate 300,000 reservists. Kremlin says additional military personnel needed due to frontline reaching other parts of Russian state border to counter increased shelling of Russian border areas and to defend against feared Ukrainian offensive in the Russian-occupied areas of Donbass. The presidential decree on the subject did not contain any expiry date or any other indication as to the duration of the mobilization.
This decision provoked a rapid reaction in various forms, ranging from civil unrest by activist groups to an increase in the number of citizens seeking to leave the country.
Activist organizations including the Vesna (Spring) Movement and the Feminist Anti-War Resistance began staging protests in cities across Russia almost immediately after the Kremlin announced the September 21 mobilization. Security forces reacted forcefully and more than 1,300 protesters were reportedly arrested.
These groups will likely continue to hold rallies in major cities at least until mid-October. Demonstrations are more likely to occur near major public squares, major transportation hubs and government buildings. Security forces will almost certainly deploy in large numbers to any such gatherings that may materialize. Other mass arrests could take place. Counter-demonstrations by Kremlin supporters may also take place. Clashes between rival groups of activists are possible.
The Russian border has reportedly seen increased activity and congestion since the announcement, as men of military age attempt to leave the country. Currently, most border crossings are open, but some fear Moscow may close the borders to prevent reservists from fleeing. The borders of the three Baltic countries and Poland have also been closed to some Russian refugees. Ticket prices for air travel to visa-free countries have reportedly skyrocketed since the mobilization order came into effect. Flights to Turkey, Armenia and Dubai were fully booked until at least September 26.
A number of security incidents involving military recruiting offices have been reported, usually in the form of low-level arson attacks. Such offices were attacked in St. Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod and Togliatti. Other incidents cannot be ruled out.
The partial mobilization marks a significant escalation in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow calls a “special military operation”. The Russian authorities had previously indicated that a military mobilization was not necessary; however, Russian forces and Russian proxies in Ukraine experienced significant battlefield setbacks, including the withdrawal from the Ukrainian region of Kharkiv in the midst of a Ukrainian counteroffensive, which likely prompted this change in strategy.
Partial mobilization is unlikely to have an immediate impact on the conflict. After mandatory training, reserve forces can be used in a variety of capacities, including defending the Russian border, relieving combat troops currently deployed in Ukraine, reinforcing defensive positions in Russian-occupied territory, or being held in reserve before a new offensive at the end of winter or beginning of spring.
Putin also claimed that the mobilization was an effort to respond to Western support for Ukraine, stating that these nations were encouraging Ukraine to attack Russian territory and further alleging that unspecified NATO leaders had discussed the possibility of using nuclear weapons against Russia. Despite Putin’s claims and assurances that Russia would respond in kind to such an attack, the threat of nuclear escalation remains low.
Consider postponing non-essential travel to areas of Russia bordering Ukraine. Stay in contact with your diplomatic representation. Monitor local media for updates on the situation and be prepared to alter short-term travel plans in response to developments. Avoid all demonstrations and concentrations of security personnel.
Heed all official instructions. Carry the appropriate documentation. Do not take photos of security force installations or units. Consider limiting movement to areas where troops are concentrating or undergoing military training. Avoid discussing military movements or the political situation with strangers. Remain polite and non-confrontational if questioned by security forces.