Opposition protests, traffic 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 Sept. 21 executive order mandating partial military mobilization in the country. The directive comes amid a series of battlefield setbacks in the Moscow War in Ukraine. Although the text of the directive does not stipulate a limit on the number of conscripts, the Russian defense authorities initially plan to activate 300,000 reservists. With the frontline reaching other parts of Russia’s state border, additional military personnel are needed to counter increased shelling of Russian border areas and repel a feared Ukrainian offensive into Russian-held areas of Donbass, according to the Kremlin. The relevant executive order contained no expiry date or other indication of how long the mobilization might last.
The move has quickly sparked backlash in various forms, ranging from civil unrest by activist groups to an increase in the number of citizens wanting to leave the country.
Activist organizations, including the Vesna (Spring) movement and the feminist anti-war resistance, began protests in cities across Russia almost immediately after the Kremlin’s September 21 announcement of the mobilization. Security forces responded violently, and more than 1,300 demonstrators were reportedly arrested.
Such groups are likely to continue organizing rallies in major cities until at least mid-October. Demonstrations are most likely to take place near prominent public squares, major transportation hubs and government buildings. Security forces will almost certainly be deployed heavily at such gatherings that do occur. There may be more mass arrests. There may also be counter-protests by Kremlin supporters. 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. Most border crossings are currently open, but some fear Moscow may close the borders to prevent reservists from escaping. The borders of the three Baltic states and Poland were also closed to some Russian refugees. Ticket prices for air travel to visa-free countries have reportedly skyrocketed since the mobilization order went into effect. Flights to Turkey, Armenia and Dubai are fully booked until at least September 26th.
There have been reports of a number of security incidents involving military recruiting offices, typically in the form of low-level arson attacks. Such offices were attacked in St. Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod and Tolyatti. Further incidents cannot be ruled out.
The partial mobilization marks a major escalation in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow describes as a “military special operation.” Russian authorities had previously warned that military mobilization was unnecessary; However, Russian and Russian proxy forces in Ukraine have experienced significant battlefield setbacks, including withdrawing from Ukraine’s Kharkiv region amid a Ukrainian counter-offensive, which likely prompted this change in strategy.
The partial mobilization is unlikely to have an immediate impact on the conflict. After compulsory training, reserve forces may be deployed in a variety of roles, including defending the Russian border, relieving combat troops currently stationed in Ukraine, strengthening defensive positions in Russian-occupied territories, or as a reserve before a renewed offensive in late winter or early spring .
Putin also claimed the mobilization was an attempt to respond to Western support for Ukraine, stating that these nations encouraged Ukraine to attack Russian territory and further claiming that unspecified NATO leaders denied the possibility of the deployment of nuclear weapons against Russia had discussed. Despite Putin’s claims and assurances that Russia would respond to such an attack in kind, the threat of a nuclear escalation remains remote.
Consider postponing non-essential travel to areas of Russia bordering Ukraine. Maintain contact with your diplomatic mission. Monitor local media for updates on the situation and be prepared to change travel plans at short notice in response to developments. Avoid all protests and concentrations of security personnel.
Observe all official instructions. Carry proper documentation with you. Do not take photos of security forces facilities or units. Consider restricting movement in areas where troops are concentrated or undergoing military training. Avoid discussing military movements or the political situation with strangers. Remain polite and non-confrontational when questioned by security guards.