Life for the Tsar
The full-scale war against Ukraine, launched by Russia on February 24, 2022, demonstrated not only the inability of the Russian leadership to adequately assess the situation and make a forecast. After all, the plan to invade Ukraine, which was implemented by Russian President Vladimir Putin, did not provide for the use of military forces much larger than those initially deployed. Reacting to unexpected losses and the change in the nature of the fighting to a long-term one, the Russian leadership had to urgently increase the army. The methods of the Second World War were revived in the form of mass mobilization, if not general, then mass mobilization.
This demonstrated the highest degree of cynicism of Putin, who acquired all the characteristics of a KGB officer - an organizer of mass murder, repression, and the most insidious methods of discrediting and recruiting - from his service in the KGB. He sent to war, first of all, those who definitely did not need it. These are the peoples who are subject to Moscow and to whom it has brought nothing good, whose national life is barely alive in the face of Russification. But forced mobilization is one thing. The KGB's "skill", the Chekist's talent, is to make these peoples volunteer for a dangerous war voluntarily and enthusiastically, and the region where they live takes over their support...
The Blitzkrieg that Failed
Volunteer battalions began to form in the summer of 2022. At that time, it became clear that the Russians had failed in their "blitzkrieg" in Ukraine, and that it would not be possible to effectively wage war with the existing army and other security forces. Mobilization without preparation was undesirable, as it could lead to great discontent. In addition, the issue of material support for the army was also too acute.
The irony is that Russia, militarized to the point of insanity, was in many ways ill-prepared for a high-intensity war with a motivated and fiercely resisting enemy. The Kremlin thought it was a good idea to use the human and material resources of the regions.
The need to create "volunteer battalions" was justified in information campaigns in the regions by the need to "defend the Fatherland and fight Ukrainian Nazism," i.e., the traditional theses of Russian propaganda.
The scenario for creating "volunteer battalions" in the Russian Federation involved a loud announcement by the regional authorities about its creation, recruitment of volunteers through interviews, and naming the battalion to evoke an association with the region. There was widespread information about the benefits and payments that the region would provide to the "volunteers," and how much of the food and material support would be provided by the local authorities. Then the training and service in the occupied territory of Ukraine began. Regional officials have to accompany this process and report on their care.
Formally, there are no "national" volunteer battalions in the Russian Federation, usually referred to as "regional" battalions. Indeed, these units are formed by the authorities in many regions of the Russian Federation. However, there are a number of features that make battalions formed in the "national" subjects of the federation stand apart and require special attention.
Why does the Kremlin Need Natives?
It is obvious that the Kremlin has high expectations for the "national battalions." First of all, in terms of propaganda. They are supposed to be a living testament to the fact that Russia is "a multinational, internationalist country where friendship of nations is a reality." The second important consideration is to increase combat capability. The Russian leadership, regardless of their personal background, professes classic imperial, racist views.
In this picture of the world, the peoples conquered by the empire must faithfully serve it, and in this service the empire uses their "closeness to nature," or rather "savagery" and other available combat qualities. In this case, natives can be organized into certain units.
Needless to say, the special qualities of such warriors associated with "savagery" in the case of Russia are often imaginary. After all, "native" units are formed, among other things, from quite modern peoples, often with their own long experience of civilization and statehood. But this does not bother the Russian imperialist. In his mind, "natives" are still lower than "natural Russians" in terms of civilization.
The creation of "national battalions" is a kind of "controlled provocation" for the Kremlin. Putin is a KGB officer, and "state security" is probably one of the few things he is really good at. He monitors national movements in the republics of the Russian Federation. And he is well aware that many peoples have more than enough reasons to be dissatisfied with the Kremlin's policy in the field of national relations.
In a time of war, dissatisfaction can manifest itself unexpectedly and harshly. However, propaganda has allegedly suppressed national consciousness among almost any people of the Russian Federation, and the units created are under control. They pay great attention to moral and psychological processing and "political education."
The national context is completely replaced by the regional one. For example, in the government's addresses to the battalions formed in Tatarstan, they refer to fighters who are Tatarstanis, but not Tatars. But the illusion of a "national unit" is still present among the fighters. However, the units "fight for Russia, for common interests." Much attention is paid here to drawing parallels with the "Great Patriotic War," where representatives of different nations allegedly fought together against Nazism.
Volunteer battalions have also become a place where promising rebels from the republics are channeled. Thus, Bashkir activists, participants of environmental protests in Kushtau, who are persecuted in Bashkortostan, are forced to join battalions formed in the republic in order to stop their persecution or to prevent their relatives from being persecuted. Some hope to "find themselves" in the war.
Moscow has ensured that the "national volunteer" battalions are filled with sufficiently motivated and ideologically processed fighters or those who have been forced to earn forgiveness from the authorities by good service in the war. Their financial and material support is largely dependent on the region.
For example, in Bashkiria, the so-called "Salavat Yulayev battalion" states in its recruitment materials that payments are made like in the Russian Guard, along with additional payments from the Republic of Bashkortostan. The payment should have been 80 thousand rubles per month (up to $800) for the period of combat coordination and 200 thousand (up to $2,000) during participation in combat operations. It should be borne in mind that Bashkortostan is one of the "rich" republics of the Russian Federation, and its authorities are actively promoting the war, so not everywhere there is such a level of payments and regional authorities do not always keep their promises.
There is a certain danger that these units could suddenly become a source of separatism and national revival, or that regional leaders would want to use them as their private army. But it is balanced by propaganda work that neutralizes this danger. On the contrary, it opens up the possibility of additional control over otherwise dangerous people gathered in one place. The Kremlin clearly hopes that this is how "a strong unified Russian identity is formed as a superstructure based on the diversity of patchwork ethnicity. Men of different nationalities are now defending their homeland side by side, so all interethnic and interreligious differences are fading into the background."
This is How "Russian Patriotism" is Forged
Formed as "national" battalions, they have names that are intended to once again draw attention to the "ethnic" nature of the unit (Tatar battalions "Alga" - "Forward", "Timer" - "Iron"). They can be named after figures of the Second World War (Bashkir, named after General Shaimuratov) or a legendary mythological hero (Mordovia, Siyazhar).
Although there are nuances. One of the Bashkir battalions is named after Salavat Yulayev, who fought against the Russian Empire in the 18th century. But this is not a problem for most Russians. Since the Soviet era, Yulayev has been part of the pantheon of permissible heroes, as a fighter against tsarist rule and an associate of Emelyan Pugachev, the leader of the uprising of Russian Cossacks and peasants.
The leadership of the "subjects of the federation" perceives the so-called Easter as an excuse to demonstrate their "patriotism" and loyalty to Moscow. Much depends on the region itself. Bashkortostan has probably become a "champion" in the formation of these units. Not only the aforementioned battalions named after Shaimuratov, Yulayev, and Dostavalov, but also the Vatan ("Motherland") battalion and the Bashkortostan motorized rifle regiment were formed there. The head of this region, Radiy Khabirov, is actively involved in the war, in the problems of supplying the "volunteer units," paying attention to their fighters, and filling the media with issues.
The situation with the "volunteer battalions" is also superimposed on the traditional competition between regions in the desire to demonstrate their success and greater loyalty to Moscow. In particular, there is traditional competition between Tatarstan and Bashkortostan. In Bashkortostan, local propaganda created the image of an inveterate scout Fanis (Khusainov), a mercenary who fought in one of the "volunteer" units. This occupier became a hero of local television and comics, and was killed by Ukrainian troops.
In response, Tatarstan popularized a Tatar soldier from the "volunteer" battalion "Timer" Ayrat (Muhammadiev), who became known for dancing with the Tatarstan flag on an armored personnel carrier, and the video became quite popular in the aggressor country.
The created "national battalions" are used by propaganda, their mythology is being formed and, given the difficult economic situation, additional recruitment is being carried out. In the fall of 2022, some of the volunteers of these battalions were dissatisfied with the harsh conditions and tried to leave the front. But at the same time, they approved of the war itself.
It is the fighters of the national battalions who are currently demonstrating their loyalty to Russia and do not even realize their disgusting zeal in serving it. For example, one of the chevrons of the Tatar battalion "Alga" is worth reading: "We are Tatars, Russians are with us, God is with them" (a reference to the Russian slogan "We are Russians, God is with us").
"National battalions" are actively used at the front. It is obvious that the command of the occupying army can send them to dangerous areas and is not going to protect them. Their losses are known to be quite high. In particular, the Chuvash Atal battalion suffered losses in late October. It was hit by HIMARS during its redeployment. It is known about 47 killed Chuvash, including the unit commander. In early October, the Tatarstan battalion "Alga" suffered significant losses, and its commander was captured by the Ukrainian Defense Forces.
The attitude of national liberation movements to these "volunteer battalions" is unequivocally negative. For example, Ruslan Gabbasov, the leader of the Committee of the Bashkir National Movement Abroad, who was forced to emigrate to Lithuania, warned members of pro-Moscow volunteer battalions about the consequences of participating in the war after Bashkortostan becomes independent: soldiers of volunteer units will not be subject to amnesty, and those "who remain alive, healthy and disabled, will be deprived of all benefits and pensions as voluntary participants in the war of aggression."
It is clear that this and similar statements are of limited significance at the moment. However, as the war continues, its prolongation, and losses, they will also have a certain impact on the formation of anti-war sentiment in the national regions of the Russian Federation.