Is Russia Using Ukraine War Mobilization to Eliminate Potential Domestic Threats?

Dr. E.C. Beuck
President Vladimir Putin of RussiaПресс-служба Президента РФ

The partial mobilization that Russia has implemented in recent days has been a source of unrest and upheaval from the start, with protests and large numbers of citizens leaving the country in order to avoid being given military orders. Though the mobilization itself was presented as only affecting Russian citizens with previous military experience, and capped at 300,000 reservists who would be called up, there has been widespread concern that this is but the first step towards a general mobilization of the population.

That being said, it is already becoming clear that it is the ethnic minorities of Russia who are being disproportionately mobilized for the next stage in the war in Ukraine. Indeed, the large numbers of men being drafted in the ethnic republics, like Dagestan in the North Caucasus and Buryatia in Siberia, are but the latest from regions that have already be subject to heavy losses in the war so far. These regions are far from the center of Putin's power, some possess separatist movements, and in the case of the Caucasus, were the site of efforts to attain independence from Russia during the First (1994-1996) and Second Chechen (1999-2009) Wars.

Another targeted group includes the Crimean Tatars of Russian-occupied Crimea, which has prompted many of these people to flee to other countries. “On the territory of the occupied Crimea, Russia focuses on the Crimean Tatars during the course of mobilization,” said Representative Tamila Tasheva on Ukraine’s Parliament TV this past Sunday. “Currently, thousands of Crimean Tatars, including their families, are leaving Crimea through the territory of Russia mostly for Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan.” Indeed, according to information reported by the activist and journalist Osman Pashaev, nearly eighty percent of the draft papers being handed out in Crimea are going to Crimean Tatars, who make up less than twenty percent of the population there. Likely this targeted effort is at least partially in response to the years of opposition to Russia rule by the Crimean Tatar population.

While some are choosing to feel the country to avoid being drafted into a war they want no part of, others have engaged in protests against the government. Protests, such as those ongoing in Dagestan, have broken out among ethnic minorities against President Putin’s mobilization orders. Unfortunately they might end up having little impact, given President Putin’s need to replenish the ranks of the Russian armed forces deployed within Ukraine. With this in mind, the Russian government has implemented new laws to punish potential recruits from dodging the draft or disobeying orders. According to these new laws, those who fail to report for duty or desert could be subject to as many as ten years in prison.

Faced with a difficult choice between imprisonment, death, or surrender, a recent announcement by President Zelenskyy of Ukraine might give these unwilling warriors a measure of hope. According to the Ukrainian President, any Russian soldier who surrenders will be “treated in a civilized manner,” that no one in Russia will know that their “surrender was voluntary,” and that if they did not wish to be returned to Russia that Ukraine would find a way for that to happen as well. Regardless, given that many of those being mobilized into the Russian armed forces come from minority populations who might be deployed swiftly as cannon fodder, it is possible another benefit of this latest move by Putin will serve to help secure his regime in the regions where it has a weaker presence.

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Holding a PhD in Political Science, I write about current events and on political topics related to international relations, international law, conflict both between and within states, and the interactions between technology and politics.

Washington, DC

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