How is the new Kremlin campaign to recruit fighters: they offer cash bonuses, family benefits and tempting promises

A sign announcing a “military service contract” is seen next to a highway on the outskirts of Krasnodar in the new recruitment drive (AP) (Uncredited/)

The ads promise cash bonuses and tempting benefits. Recruiters call suitable men unannounced. Recruitment offices work with universities and social service agencies to win over students and the unemployed.

This spring there is a new campaign in Russia that seeks recruits to replenish its troops in the offensive in Ukraine.

As fighting stalemates in Ukraine battles like Bakhmut and both sides prepare counter-offensives that could cost even more lives, the Kremlin’s war machine need new recruits urgently.

The mobilization of 300,000 reservists in September – presented as a “partial” call to arms – sent panic across the country because technically most men under 65 are part of the reserves. Tens of thousands fled Russia rather than report to recruiting offices.

The Kremlin denies that another call-up is in the offing for what it describes as a “special military operation” in Ukraine, which has lasted for more than a year.

But amid widespread uncertainty about whether that mobilization will take place, the Kremlin entices men to volunteer, either with makeshift recruitment centers in various regions or with phone calls. So can “avoid declaring a second wave of mobilization formal” after the first was so unpopular, according to a recent report from the Institute of the Study of Wara US-based think tank.

People walk past an army recruiting billboard with the words
Pedestrians next to a recruitment campaign poster in St. Petersburg (AP)

A Muscovite told PA that his employer, a state-funded organization, collected the registration cards of all male employees of combat age and said he would get them deferrals. However, he pointed out, the situation scared him.

“One feels nervous and scared, no one wants to suddenly end up in a war with a gun in their hands,” said the man, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. “The special operation is dragging on somehow, so any surprise from the Russian authorities can be expected.”

It’s been more than a week since he turned in his card, he said, and exceptions are usually resolved within a day or two, which has triggered his anxiety.

Russian media point out that men across the country receive summonses from enlistment offices. In most cases they are simply asked to update their details, in others they have been ordered to participate in military training.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said last week that responding to summonses to update data at enlistment offices is “regular practice” and “continuing work.”

Other unconfirmed media reports say authorities have told regional governments to round up a certain number of volunteers. Some officials announced they would open centers to get men to sign contracts allowing them to be sent to fight as professional soldiers.

FILE - Russian recruits walk to take a train at a railway station in Prudboi, the Volgograd region of Russia, on Sept.  29, 2022. A campaign to replenish Russian troops in Ukraine with more soldiers appears to be underground again, with makeshift recruitment centers popping up in cities and towns, and state institutions posting ads promising cash bonuses and benefits to entice men to sign contracts enabling them to be sent into the battlefield.  (AP Photo, File)
Deployment of recruits in Volgograd (AP / file)

Have appeared ads on government sites and on social media accounts of state institutions and organizations, such as libraries and high schools.

One of them, shared by a local government in the western Yaroslav region, promised a one-time bonus of about $3,800 for enlisting and a monthly salary up to $2,500 for those sent to Ukraine, in addition to some 100 dollars a day for “participation in active offensive operations” and 650 dollars “for each kilometer of advance in assault teams.”

The ad added that the soldier would also get tax breaks and in repayment of loans, their children would have preference in university admissions and there would be generous compensation to your family if you were wounded or killed in combat. He would also get war veteran statuswhich brought even more advantages.

In the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, authorities have asked universities and vocational training centers to publicize the campaign on their websites, said Sergei Chernyshov, founder of a private trade school in the city.

Chernyshov shared the announcement on his social media account “so that the whole world knows what our city council is up to,” but told PA I hadn’t planned to put it on the school website. “It’s weird” to target students at professional schools, she said.

As part of the efforts, recruiting agents meet with college students and unemployed men, or call men to volunteer.

FILE - A street performer walks past an image of a Russian serviceman reading “The Motherland we defend” at a street exhibition of military photos in St. Petersburg, Russia, Tuesday, March 14, 2023. A campaign to replenish Russian troops in Ukraine with More soldiers appear to be underway again, with makeshift recruitment centers popping up in cities and towns, and state institutions posting ads promising cash bonuses and benefits to entice men to sign contracts enabling them to be sent into the battlefield.  (AP Photo, File)
A costumed person walks past a sign reading “The Fatherland We Defend” in St. Petersburg (AP)

A Muscovite who spoke on condition of anonymity for his own safety said he had received one such call and was surprised by how kind he had been. “After my ‘no,’ there were no threats or (attempts to) convince me, (just) ‘thank you, bye’.”

Has been isolated cases of recruiting agents who did pressure men to sign upsaid Grigory Sverdlin, founder of a group called Go Through the Woods that helps men avoid mobilization.

The group receives up to 100 messages a day from men seeking advice on how to handle subpoenas, he said, compared with dozens of inquiries a day in recent months. In most cases, officials want to update their records with addresses and phone numbers, and may try to recruit you in the process.

But Sverdlin said some cases draw attention.

In the Vologda region, some 400 kilometers north of Moscow, the group received messages that almost everyone who went to the office after receiving a summons “is forced to sign a paper that prohibits them from leaving the region“, said.

Lawyer Alexei Tabalov, who heads the Recruit School legal aid group, believes there is nothing unusual about authorities handing out subpoenas now. Some are common before the spring recruitment campaign, which would begin on April 1 for those who have to do mandatory military service.

All Russian men between the ages of 18 and 27 must serve a year in the military, though many avoid it for health reasons or receive study exemptions. The proportion of men who avoid being drafted is especially high in Moscow and other large cities.and many people simply shy away from officials carrying recruiting citations.

Tabalov said some men have said they went to the offices to update their details but found officials who “distract and propose the idea of ​​signing the contract, talk about how one should love their country and defend it.”

He doubted there was anything that would make it attractive to volunteer after 13 months of a war with tens of thousands of dead and wounded.

“People already understand what it means to sign a contract,” he said. “Those who got burned once are unlikely to fall into the same trap.”

Tabalov said his group continues to receive messages from soldiers who want to cancel their contracts, but that is not legally possible until the president, Vladimir Putin, ends the partial mobilization, which began in September, with a new decree.

“Getting out of the war means automatic criminal chargesTabalov said, adding that there has been a succession of criminal charges since December and soldiers who desert or go AWOL have been prosecuted.

The news outlet midfielder It tallied 247 verdicts in 536 cases on those and similar charges and noted that a third of those convicted received suspended sentences, allowing authorities to send them back to the front lines.

The current recruitment drive is similar to the one conducted last summer before the September mobilization, said Kateryna Stepanenko, a Russian analyst at the Institute of the Study of War.

The authorities also used financial incentives then and formed volunteer battalions, but the initiative was clearly not enough, because Putin later resorted to partial mobilization.

It was not clear if the new campaign would be successful.

“They have already recruited a considerable part of the people who had financial incentives last summer. And they had trouble doing it last year,” Stepanenko said.

The current recruitment drive shows that the Army is aware of its personnel needs in Ukraine.

“What the 300,000 military mobilization campaign told us is that it is not enough to form a sufficient attack group for Russia to continue its offensive operations,” he said.

(With information from AP)

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