After widespread criticism and mass arrests, Putin makes his first public acknowledgment of mobilisation problems.
President Vladimir Putin said that “all mistakes” made in a call-up to reinforce Russia’s military operation in Ukraine should be corrected, his first public acknowledgment that the “partial mobilisation” he announced last week had not gone smoothly.
There have been widespread public expressions of discontent from officials and citizens over the way the mobilisation has been handled, including complaints about enlistment officers sending call-up papers to clearly ineligible men.
Thousands of men have fled Russia to avoid a draft that was billed as enlisting those with military experience and required specialities but that has often appeared oblivious to individuals’ service record, health, student status or even age.
More than 2,400 people have also been arrested at unsanctioned anti-war protests in more than 30 towns and cities, according to the OVD-Info organisation, and some of them have been promptly given call-up papers – something the Kremlin said was perfectly legal.
“In the course of this mobilisation, many questions are coming up, and all mistakes must be corrected and prevented from happening in the future,” Putin said.
“For example, I’m thinking of fathers of many children, or people suffering from chronic diseases, or who those who are already past conscription age.”
Russia’s announcement on September 21 of its first public mobilisation since World War II had even attracted criticism from the Kremlin’s own official supporters, something almost unheard of in Russia since it sent its army into Ukraine seven months ago.
“They’re infuriating people, as if on purpose, as if out of spite. As if they’d been sent by Kyiv,” the strongly pro-Kremlin editor of Russia’s state-run RT news channel, Margarita Simonyan, said on Saturday.
On Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov acknowledged that some call-ups had been issued in error, saying mistakes were being corrected by regional governors and the ministry of defence.
Putin notably refrained from assigning blame for the errors – either to the ministry, led by his close ally Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, or to the regional officials entrusted with deciding precisely who call-up papers should go to.
Shoigu said last week that Moscow planned to enlist only 300,000 personnel. The Kremlin later denied a report by the exiled independent publication Novaya Gazeta Europe that an undisclosed clause in Putin’s mobilisation decree provided for one million reservists to be called up.
Meanwhile, Russian authorities have opened more military enlistment offices near Russia’s borders in an apparent effort to intercept some of the men of fighting age who are trying to flee the country by land.
A new draft office opened at the Ozinki checkpoint in the Saratov region on Russia’s border with Kazakhstan, regional officials said on Thursday. Another enlistment centre was set to open at a crossing in the Astrakhan region, also on the border with Kazakhstan.
Earlier this week, makeshift Russian draft offices were set up near the Verkhny Lars border crossing into Georgia in southern Russia and near the Torfyanka checkpoint on Russia’s border with Finland. Russian officials said they would hand draft notices to all eligible men who were trying to leave the country.