The course of the great war that Russia launched against Ukraine on February 24, 2022, under the name of a "special military operation" (SMO), shows that the Kremlin was really counting on quickly overcoming the resistance of the Ukrainian Defense Forces, believing that this resistance would be sporadic and poorly organized. As a result, Moscow was really counting on establishing control over most of Ukraine's territory and creating a new reality where there is no place for the Ukrainian state and identity. In general, this indicates a systemic crisis in Russian analytics and management. After all, since 2014, after the occupation of Crimea, Moscow has been waging an eight-year war in eastern Ukraine.
Of course, Russia has denied in every possible way its involvement in this war in Donetsk and Luhansk regions, but it is obvious that it was waged by Russian military structures and at the expense of the Russian Federation. In addition, the Russian Federation had experience with the events of 2014-2015, when Ukraine managed to localize Russian aggression in a limited area due to the presence of the Ukrainian volunteer military movement and the activity of volunteers who supported the army.
However, the high level of ideologization of the Russian population, the expert community, and the Russian leadership affected by the "Russian world" and their disdain for Ukraine did not allow the Russians to draw the right conclusion about the motivation of Ukrainians to resist, the combat capability of the Ukrainian army, and the stability of Ukraine's institutions.
As a result, "Kyiv in three days," a slogan that was heard on Russian TV, has turned into "everything is going according to plan," and now there is no question of how long the war will last. The huge losses of personnel have forced the Kremlin to think about non-standard ways of manning the invading army and solving problems with the material supply of new units.
Mobilization as a Russian Social Elevator
It should be noted that the mobilization that the Kremlin has been conducting since September 2022, and which is latently ongoing, has not caused an explosion of enthusiasm and admiration among residents of more prosperous regions of the Russian Federation, people with higher incomes and education.
The world media's reports on the so-called Russian "relocators" who colorfully fled to different countries from mobilization were a stinging blow to Russian propaganda, which has always appealed to continuity with the heroes of the "great Patriotic war" and claimed that if necessary, Russians "will all go to the front as one." Significantly, older Russians from prosperous regions disapprove of this escape from mobilization. This assessment is related to age: the less likely one is to personally receive a draft notice and go to the front, the higher the level of militarism and the desire to send all young people to "defend the fatherland."
In view of the above, the Kremlin has relied on the provinces, disadvantaged regions and national outskirts for mobilization. It is clear that poor Russian regions with low living standards and general culture, hopelessness and depression, crime, alcoholism and drug addiction, where men do not live long and are indoctrinated by propaganda, perceive mobilization as a way out, entertainment and even a social elevator.
Operation "Save the Russian"
However, the Kremlin has gone further. Among the depressed regions, there are many that are home to indigenous peoples, in the autonomous entities of the Russian Federation or in its interior and on its borders. The dynamics of mobilization suggests that the Kremlin is deliberately relying on the mobilization of non-Russians. They are disproportionately represented among those mobilized.
The goal is clear. If possible, it is to preserve the titular nation, to keep Russia more Russian, which is very important for the Kremlin against the backdrop of a rapidly declining share of the Russian population. Again, the massive deaths of Russians from the center of Russia could also affect the mood in the capitals (Moscow and St. Petersburg) and other important centers, and the Kremlin is afraid of this. And so Russia fights with the hands of subjugated peoples who become accomplices in its crimes and blur the responsibility of Moscow itself.
This happened, for example, with the image of the Buryats and Chechens of Kadyrov's forces, and Moscow itself cultivates this image of "non-Russians" to intimidate Ukrainians and whitewash the military of Russian origin as the bearer of legitimate "strict but fair" power. However, such propaganda is not very effective. The massive mobilization of national minorities for war with a high probability of being killed reduces the number of potentially rebellious peoples, the possibility of their revival and separatist tendencies. In general, such a mobilization policy can be considered part of genocide. And this is noted by activists of national movements.
For example, in the winter, the trial of Yakut (Sakha) activist Anatoly Nogovitsyn, who opposed Russia's aggressive war, took place. The trial provided information about the terrible consequences of mobilization for the northern regions of Yakutia, where the Yakuts live. In some settlements, a huge number of men were mobilized.
It is in those regions where people live the traditional way of life of the peoples of the North, where much depends on male physical labor, that mobilization will lead to poverty and the destruction of traditional economy.
In the remote areas of Yakutia, there is a connection between the number of people mobilized and the level of legal literacy. The authorities blackmailed people from remote settlements with the threat that failure to report for mobilization would automatically lead to a 15-year prison term. Through mobilization, the Russian authorities are committing genocide against the small peoples of Siberia and the Far East. The situation is similar in Buryatia, as Buryat activists say.
The eastern border of the Astrakhan region of the Russian Federation is also the state border between Russia and Kazakhstan. The eastern part of the region is home to 150,000 Kazakhs, who are autochthonous and once had their own state on this territory. Kazakhs in Astrakhan Oblast make up 15 percent of the population. However, among those mobilized for the war in Ukraine, about a third of them are from the region, which is definitely a disproportionate number, judging by the number of dead. And this was noticed even in Kazakhstan, although the authorities of this country, as expected, did not make any statements on this matter.
What an Ethnic Protest Against Mobilization Looks Like
By and large, the Kremlin's policy has hardly caused mass organized protests in the "national regions". The exception is Dagestan in the North Caucasus. It was there that, in September 2022, after the announcement of mobilization, mass riots broke out in the Babayurt and Khasavyurt districts and in Makhachkala. Military enlistment offices were picketed, roads were blocked, and clashes with police, the use of special means, and shooting in the air occurred in Makhachkala, the capital of the autonomy. President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy recorded a special address to the protesters calling for resistance.
The aforementioned anti-military activist Nogovitsyn from Yakutia, comparing the situation with Dagestan, where mass protests against mobilization took place, argued that unlike Dagestan and the North Caucasus, military service in general in the Sakha Republic and among the Yakut people is not as prestigious. Paradoxically, however, one can agree with the thesis in some ways.
Firstly, it is obvious that most of those who wanted to serve from Dagestan had already enlisted under contract before Russian dictator Vladimir Putin announced the mobilization. Second, the protests took place in areas populated mainly by Turkic-speaking Kumyks. This people number about 600,000 people and are the third largest in multi-ethnic Dagestan. They have their own experience of statehood dating back to the nineteenth century. But at the moment, Kumyks in Dagestan are perhaps the least represented in the government and have a disproportionately small influence on all spheres of life. For example, Makhachkala, which is located on Kumyk lands, has never had a Kumyk mayor. So, naturally, they were targeted for mass mobilization for the war.
The national movements of the peoples of the Russian Federation fighting for independence also call for sabotage of mobilization and protests against the war. For example, the Erzya national movement officially condemned the war against Ukraine three times: once in 2014 and twice in 2022. There are similar statements by the Tatar, Bashkir, Buryat, and other movements. But their real impact on reducing the mobilization potential is certainly not great.
In general, the sluggish resistance to mobilization among non-Russians, who are its first targets, can be explained by the low level of national consciousness among a significant number of peoples under Russian rule. We can also talk about the effectiveness of Russia's identity-destroying assimilation policy and the effectiveness of propaganda, which creates a simulacrum of a "single fatherland" for every Russian. This distorts the perception of non-Russian Russians about the world, which is allegedly aggressive towards Russia. In this picture of the world, the "defense of the Russian Federation" through mobilization in a great war is imposed on the peoples enslaved by Moscow as the only possible model of behavior.