Putin is Сalling!
July 30, 2023
  • Nikolai Petrov

    Independent scholar
Nikolai Petrov explains that the tightening rules for conscription in Russia, as well as the announced establishment of “state paramilitary companies” in the regions, are made with an eye toward a long war. The measures are designed to demonstrate to both the West and Ukraine the significant advantage Russia has in terms of reserves.
On July 25, toward the end of its spring session, the Duma adopted right away in the second and third readings a bill on changes in the rules for conscription. It significantly expands the so-called active reserve, increasing the age range for conscription into the army from the current 18-27 to 18-30. This means that whereas in previous years the Ministry of Defense recruited from an age group of approximately 6 million young people, the pool will now be 8-9 million.

An electronic register for optimization

It is important to keep in mind that conscription into the ranks of the armed forces does not imply the general mobilization of all men who have reached draft age. In the spring draft, which ended on July 15, 147,000 people were called up, or one out of every 20 men of draft age.

By increasing the pool of potential conscripts, the Duma has provided the potential to expand Russia’s army. Still, this most likely does not mean that everyone will be called up right now, though it does make it easier to find and call up men whose skills are currently needed by the army.

Rather the bill seems designed to be grown into

– with an eye toward a mass mobilization, should it be needed.
Rosgvardiya breaking up a protest. Moscow, July 2019. The powers of Rosgvardia have been significantly expanded by a series of recently adopted bills, which have turned it into Russia's "internal army." Source: VK
Besides expanding the draft age, the bill makes evading military duty significantly harder and thus the work of military enlistment offices easier. It lays out in detail the provisions for so-called electronic registers – where military records and draft notices will be kept – adopted in April. Information from all state organs should go into these registers: from the tax service, courts, medical and educational institutions, election commissions, etc. From the moment when data on a sent draft notice to a citizen liable for service is posted in the electronic register, he will be temporarily prohibited from leaving Russia, while if he does not show up at the military enlistment office within 20 days, he will face not just a huge fine (the Duma increased it from RUB 500-3,000 to RUB 30,000, or about $330), but also a number of legal restrictions.

Rosgvardiya as an internal army

Another innovation adopted at the end of the Duma session was the establishment of territorial defense entities in Russia’s regions – specialized paramilitary companies will be formed and financed by the federal and regional budgets.

By decision of the president, the territorial military companies are to ensure public order and security during mobilization or when martial law is declared in regions. They will work with law enforcement, the FSB and the military administration to also protect state borders and combat saboteurs and illegal armed groups.

The military companies are also to stop drones and underwater and surface vehicles by jamming and destroying them. Legally, the military companies are so-called “state unitary enterprises,” with the rights and obligations of their employees, armed with small arms, to be regulated by the existing law on “[government] department security.” In October 2022, amendments were adopted to this law that gave Rosgvardiya control over “department security.”

Recall that since October 2022, by presidential decree martial law has been in full effect in the four Ukrainian territories occupied by Russia – parts of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions.

In the Russian regions bordering Ukraine – Bryansk, Kursk, Belgorod, Voronezh, Rostov and Krasnodar – as well as in Crimea and Sevastopol, annexed in 2014, a “medium response level” was introduced, which provides for the partial application of martial law.

In his decree, the president did not explicitly explain this “medium level,” instead listing the main areas where the heads of regions and executive-branch authorities and local self-government should focus their attention. They include strengthening the protection of public order and ensuring the safety of the population; strengthening the protection of military and other objects of state and special importance. If needed, the administration of a region may restrict the rights of the population to enter and exit its territory, as well as move around within its territory, limiting the movement of vehicles and instituting security checks, etc.

In other regions of the Central and Southern federal districts, a tightening of control, combined with the introduction of a number of restrictions, was envisaged under a “heightened readiness” regime. The rest of Russia was put on a “baseline readiness level” – there are fewer restrictions, though Putin’s decree allows local authorities to introduce certain elements of martial law on their territory.

The state military companies will most likely be first established in regions with a “medium response level.” In fact, they are already active there in the form of various sorts of “volunteer militias” (narodnie druzhiny), which in all likelihood will now receive special status, small arms and federal funding.

The capabilities of Rosgvardiya – as mentioned above, now in charge of these entities under the law on “department security” – were significantly expanded in April and July: in particular, it will receive heavy weapons, while the Ministry of Internal Affairs special forces unit Grom will be transferred to it. Essentially,
“Rosgvardiya, numbering about 400,000 people, will turn into a second full-fledged Russian army. The Russian Armed Forces will fight externally and Rosgvardiya internally.”
Viktor Zolotov, who heads up Russia's National Guard (Rosgvardiya) and formerly directed Vladimir Putin's personal security, is one of Putin's most trusted men. Source: Wiki Commons
Fears over “governors’ regional armies,” expressed by a number of observers (here and here), nevertheless seem groundless. There is only one such army in the country – in Chechnya, technically part of Rosgvardiya and led by three-star Rosgvardiya General Ramzan Kadyrov. Nothing like this can appear elsewhere.

A demonstration of strength for Ukraine and the West

The territorial defense provisions came unexpectedly – on the day of voting on the bill to raise the draft age. Back in December 2022, the Ministry of Defense had proposed shifting it from 18-27 to 21-30, which was the form in which the bill was sent to the Duma by the president and then adopted by the Duma in the first reading.

In preparation for the second reading, however, the bill changed significantly, and, as mentioned above, on July 25 the draft age was not shifted, but expanded. In addition, whereas the changes were initially supposed to be introduced in stages (in 2024, men 19 to 30 years old were to be called up, then 20 to 30 years old in 2025, and 21 to 30 years old starting in 2026), on July 25 the Duma voted for an immediate setting of the draft age from 18 to 30.

The decision on territorial defense seems to have been a reaction to the series of recent, rather successful attacks by Ukrainian drones against various targets in south and central Russia, including Moscow, as well as to the bombing of the Crimea Bridge and raids by sabotage groups in Bryansk and Belgorod regions.

It was unusual that both heads of the relevant committees in the Federation Council – General Viktor Bondarev and constitutional reform frontman Andrei Klishas – spoke out against instituting a draft age of 18 to 30 and in favor of bringing back the initial version of the bill, as proposed by the Ministry of Defense and approved by the president. There is no doubt, however, that the abrupt changes to the bill just before the second reading are a Kremlin maneuver.
The idea is obvious: push through unpopular changes in one fell swoop and in the middle of summer before the Duma goes on recess.
Meanwhile, the expansion of the draft age was presented as an initiative of Duma deputies, which gave cover to the Ministry of Defense and the president, who had initiated the original bill.

There is no doubt that the bill will quickly be adopted – this whole affair was not started for it not to be. Moreover, Federation Council Chair Valentina Matviyenko has already stated that, in her opinion, the senators will support the changes made by the Duma. The electronic register, which makes it easier for the state to control men liable for military service, is intended not so much for the annual draft but with an eye toward a mobilization that may be needed in the future.

Similarly, the territorial defense provisions are for the future: they are designed to ensure the defense of Russian territory, which neither the armed forces nor the border guard can cope with now, and also to create a mechanism to mobilize residents to defend their regions.

The new legislation makes it possible to expand the mobilization potential and demonstrate to both the West and Ukraine Russia’s significant advantage in terms of reserves and, in general, the seriousness of the Kremlin’s intentions and capabilities moving forward.

Before the start of the autumn draft on October 1, we could see a new wave of emigration by men aged 27-30 who have suddenly become potential conscripts. Perhaps the Kremlin is deliberately leaving a window before then, giving the most active and enterprising men who do not want to go to war the opportunity to leave the country. It is more convenient for the authorities to squeeze them out of the country than to generate protest moods in society and the army.
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