A new Russian campaign is trying to lure men to fight in Ukraine

Tallinn, Estonia (AP) — The ads promise cash rewards and attractive benefits. Recruiters make cold calls to eligible men. Recruitment offices work with universities and social service agencies to attract students and the unemployed.

A new campaign is underway this spring across Russia, looking for recruits to replenish its forces for the war in Ukraine.

As fighting rages on Ukrainian battlefields like Bakhmut Both sides are preparing counterattacks that could cost more lives, and the Kremlin’s war machine desperately needs new recruits.

– Mobilization in September 300 thousand reservists Described as a “partial” recall – it sent panic across the country, as most men under 65 are officially part of the reservation. Tens of thousands fled Russia rather than turn up at recruiting stations.

The Kremlin denies that another call-up of what it calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine, now more than a year old, was planned.

But amid widespread uncertainty about whether the move will eventually happen, the government is urging men to volunteer, either at temporary recruitment centers that have sprung up in various regions, or through phone calls from recruiting officials. In this way, it could “avoid declaring a second official mobilization wave” after the first wave proved very unpopularAccording to a recent report by the US-based Institute for the Study of War.

One Muscovite told the Associated Press that his employer, a state-funded organization, collected military registration cards for all male employees of fighting age and said he would get deferrals. But he said that this move still sends a wave of fear in him.

“It makes you nervous and scared — no one wants you to suddenly end up in a war with a gun in their hands,” said one resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared reprisals. “The special operation is somewhat delayed, so any surprises can be expected from the Russian authorities.”

He said it’s been over a week since he was handed his card, and waivers are usually resolved within a day or two, adding to his anxiety.

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Russian media reported that men across the country were receiving summons from draft offices. In most of these cases, the men were simply asked to update their records; In other cases, they were ordered to take part in military training.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said last week that submitting summonses to update records at enlistment offices is “standard practice” and an “ongoing task”.

Other unconfirmed media reports say that the authorities have asked regional governments to recruit a certain number of volunteers. Some officials announced the creation of recruitment centers with the aim of getting men to sign contracts that would enable them to be sent to fight as professional soldiers.

Advertisements appeared on government websites and social media accounts of state institutions and institutions, including libraries and high schools.

One of them, posted by a municipal administration in the western Yaroslavl region, promised a one-time bonus of about $3,800 for registration and, if sent to Ukraine, a monthly salary of up to $2,500, plus about $100 a day for “participation in active offensive operations” and $650 “for each kilometer of progress within the attacking teams.”

The ad said the soldier will also receive tax breaks and loan repayments, preferential college admissions status for his children, generous compensation for his family if he is wounded or killed in action, and veteran status, which carries more perks.

In the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, officials have asked universities, colleges and vocational schools to advertise recruits on their websites, said Sergey Chernyshov, founder of a private vocational school.

Chernyshov posted the announcement on his social media account “so everyone knows what the municipality is up to,” but told the AP he had no plans to post it on the school’s website. It was “strange” that vocational school students were targeted, he said.

Other efforts include recruiters meeting with college students and the unemployed, or contacting men to volunteer.

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A Muscovite who spoke on condition of anonymity for his safety said he had received such a call and was surprised at how polite it was: “After ‘no’, there were no threats or (attempts) to persuade me — (only) ‘Thank you, bye.'”

There have only been isolated cases of recruiters putting real pressure on men to enroll, said Gregory Sverdlin, founder of a group called Go by the Forest that helps men avoid mobilization.

He said the group receives up to 100 messages a day from men asking for advice on handling call-ups or recruiting officials, compared to dozens a day in recent months. In most cases, the officials wanted their records updated with addresses and phone numbers, and they might try to recruit men in the process.

But Sverdlin said some cases are notable.

In the Vologda region, about 400 kilometers (250 miles) north of Moscow, the group received letters saying that almost everyone who went to the draft office after receiving a summons was “forced to sign a paper forbidding them to leave the area,” he said. .

Attorney Alexei Tabalov, who runs the legal aid group at the conscript school, believes there is nothing unusual about the authorities now handing out the summons. Some notifications are traditionally given ahead of the Russian Spring draft, set to begin April 1, for those eligible for mandatory service.

All Russian men between the ages of 18 and 27 must serve one year in the army, but a significant proportion avoid conscription for health reasons or postpone studies. The proportion of men who avoid the draft is particularly large in Moscow and other big cities, and many of them simply evade recruiting officials carrying draft summons.

Men reported going to draft offices to update their records but having officials there who “beat around the bush and promote the idea of ​​contract signing, talking about how one should love and defend one’s motherland,” Tabalov said.

He doubted that anything could make volunteering attractive after 13 months of war that had killed and injured tens of thousands.

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

His group continues to receive letters from soldiers who want their contracts terminated, Tabalov said, but this is not legally possible until President Vladimir Putin ends the partial mobilization, which began in September, with a new decree.

“Exiting a war automatically means criminal prosecution,” Tabalov said, adding that there have been a series of criminal cases since December, with prosecutions of soldiers who deserted or went AWOL.

The Medizona news agency counted 247 judgments in 536 criminal cases on these and similar charges, adding that more than a third of those convicted had suspended sentences, allowing authorities to send them back to the front lines.

The current draft campaign is similar to the one enacted last summer, before the call-up in September, said Kateryna Stepanenko, a Russia analyst at the Institute for the Study of War.

At that time, the authorities also used financial incentives, and various volunteer brigades were formed, but the efforts were clearly not successful, because Putin eventually switched to partial mobilization.

It is unclear whether or not this person will succeed.

They actually recruited a good portion of the people who were financially motivated last summer. “They struggled to do that last year,” Stepanenko said.

Current recruiting efforts demonstrate the Army’s awareness of Ukraine’s manpower needs.

She said, “What the campaign to mobilize 300,000 soldiers told us is that it is not enough to form a sufficient strike group for Russia to move forward with its offensive operations.”

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Associated Press writer Jurass Karamano contributed to this report.

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Follow AP coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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