Russia Geopolitical Watch – from September 17 to September 23, 2022

Russia Watch Team: Ilinka Léger, Enzo Padovan

21/09/2022: The "partial" mobilization was announced by the Russian authorities – Ilinka Léger

On September 21, in a televised address, Vladimir Putin announced the mobilization of Russian reservists in the context of the war in Ukraine. According to the president, the mobilization aims to "support our homeland, our sovereignty and its territorial integrity, and to ensure the security of our people and the people of the liberated territories." The mobilization concerns people who have completed their military service and are therefore automatically added to the lists of army reservists. Sergei Shoigu, the defense minister, estimated that the number of reservists amounted to 25 million people. The Kremlin's goal is to gather 300,000 men, but according to the newspaper Le Monde only 5,000 of them "train on a regular basis". According to videos filmed after the first recruitments, it is expected that the soldiers will receive a two-week training before leaving for the Ukrainian front. They were also promised a minimum of equal pay to contract soldiers and that their jobs would be returned upon their return. The Ministry of Defense assures that recruitment quotas are established "on the basis of the volume of mobilization human resources available, each constituent entity of the Russian Federation has a separate task for the provision of mobilization resources". However, as early as September 21, the chairman of the Defense Committee of the Duma Andrei Kartapolov had specified that the majority of the contingent would be mobilized in the western and central regions of Russia.

21/09/2022 : More than 200 soldiers returned to Ukraine following an exchange of prisoners, including defenders of Azovstal – Enzo Padovan

On 21 September, 215 Ukrainian army fighters, including 124 officers, were released from Russian jails. The majority of the liberated soldiers are members of the Azov Regiment, a unit of the Kiev National Guard, and participated in the defense of the Azovstal factory in Mariupol. As a reminder, the latter was one of the last bastions of Ukrainian resistance during the fall of the city in April. In addition, a dozen international volunteers, including 5 British and at least one Moroccan citizen, were also released by Russia. Moreover, it is interesting to note that Saudi Arabia acted as a mediator for part of the exchanges and negotiations.

However, this agreement is not without concessions for Kiev. The Ukrainian government has agreed to release Viktor Medvedchuk, a pro-Russian political opponent and close friend of Vladimir Putin. Under house arrest for high treason since 2021, he and 55 other pro-Kremlin fighters have served as bargaining chips. Finally, Turkey played a key role in the release of the prisoners. In fact, the leaders of the Azov Regiment (Denis Prokopenko and Svyatoslav Palamar) are now on Turkish territory. The terms of the agreement also stipulate that they must remain there until the end of hostilities.

21/09/2022: Central Asian countries warn their nationals against participating in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict – Ilinka Léger

On 21 September, as soon as the Russian authorities announced the partial military mobilization, the Uzbek Labour Migration Agency reacted by reminding its fellow citizens on Russian soil that any recruitment into a foreign army is punishable by 3 to 5 years' imprisonment under the Uzbek penal code. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan also issued communiqués along the same lines. These reactions follow the decision taken by the Duma on 20 September to grant Russian citizenship to foreigners who join the Russian armed forces on contract and serve at least one year with them. On the same day, the upcoming opening of a military commissariat located directly in the Sakharovo migration center in Moscow was announced. According to the mayor of the city, "the Moscow government will deploy a comprehensive infrastructure in Sakharovo to help the Russian Ministry of Defense organize the enlistment of foreign citizens for military service." The stakes are high for the countries of Central Asia: at least 2 million Uzbeks, 1 million Tajiks, as many Kyrgyz and 200,000 Kazakhs are currently in Russia, according to researcher Olivier Ferrando.

22/09/2022: The announcement of the "partial" mobilization provokes a new wave of departure from Russian territory and protests – Ilinka Léger

On September 22, the Russian Defense Ministry said that "during the first 24 hours of partial mobilization, about 10,000 citizens presented themselves to the military registration and enlistment offices, without waiting for a summons." A positive dynamic displayed by the Russian authorities that denotes among the images and stories of people fleeing the country. Images of the Georgian, Kazakh, and to a lesser extent Finnish land borders show endless lines of cars and plane tickets were stormed. At the same time, long queues have been created in universities as well as in front of military police stations, trying to obtain papers proving that the conscription of young Russians cannot be carried out immediately. Following the announcement of the partial mobilization, demonstrations took place in Moscow, St. Petesrburg, Arkengelsk and Yekaterinburg. The Chechen administration also confirmed that an anti-war rally was held in Grozny on September 22, bringing together about forty people. The rally appears to be the only known anti-government protest to date since Ramzan Kadyrov took office 15 years earlier. The President of the Autonomous Republic also announced that the partial mobilization would not be applied in Chechnya, because of the many Chechen soldiers already present on the Ukrainian front. According to the media OVD-info, 1336 people were arrested throughout the Russian Federation during the demonstrations of 21-22 September against the mobilization and against the war.

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