Report: Russian agencies placing help-wanted ads for war "mobilization experts"

Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

Makes sense. There are a lot of job vacancies in the Russian military lately.

This is your friendly reminder that Monday is Victory Day in Russia, when the country commemorates its triumph over the Nazis in World War II. The date has been on NATO’s calendar for weeks as a potential “deadline” for Moscow with respect to progress in Ukraine. Putin would naturally want a major victory to declare on Victory Day and his troops have finally delivered — sort of. They’ve taken nearly all but not quite all of Mariupol, which probably explains why the Russian army is attacking the last Ukrainian holdouts in the city as I write this. They want every last inch of the city in their hands by May 9. And of course the Ukrainians are determined to deny them that.

Victory Day is more than just a deadline, though. It’s viewed widely as a potential inflection point in the war, the day when Putin announces … something. No one’s sure what except that it’s expected to big. (A declaration of war on “the world’s Nazis,” perhaps?) The possibility most commonly mentioned by western analysts is that he’ll order a mass mobilization of the country in the name of defeating Ukraine, something that’s never happened in Russia. That would empower Moscow to extend conscription, call up reservists, place the national economy on a war footing, and prevent men of military age from leaving the country. It wouldn’t change the game in Ukraine overnight since new inductees would need to be trained and equipped, which takes time, but it would signal Putin’s commitment to the war to the west.

His spokesman was asked recently about mobilization and dismissed it as “nonsense,” insisting there’s no chance that it happens. Is that right?

Newsweek has details of some of the job ads:

One advert for the Department of Internal Affairs in the north-western district of Moscow, posted on April 29, states that applicants would be required to carry out a range of tasks, including developing and adjusting “mobilization planning documents,” and implementing “special decisions of federal executive bodies in terms of mobilization readiness and mobilization training.”

Another job posting for a “security department employee” for a Moscow federal tax service states that the applicant will be responsible for “mobilization preparation” related to wartime activities and in martial law and a state of emergency…

Meanwhile, another posting in Russia’s capital is recruiting a “mobilization work specialist.” The job specification requires the applicant to “organize mobilization training with public authorities, military commissariats, and higher organizations, and to carry out measures to transfer production to “work in wartime conditions when receiving warning signals.”

That’s a lot of mobilization work in a country that’s supposedly not headed towards mobilization.

Still, there are reasons to believe Putin won’t pull the trigger. Mass conscription obviously won’t be popular with some Russians:

Ordering a national mobilization would also amount to an admission by the Kremlin that the war hasn’t gone as planned, requiring Russian citizens to bear a much heavier burden than they expected when it was announced. Per CNN, it could be that Putin will settle instead for declaring a symbolic victory in Ukraine (i.e. conquering Mariupol) and announcing that the Donbas has been annexed by Russia. One western official told the Evening Standard that there’s scant evidence of Russia preparing for a mass mobilization so far, but added that Putin may start building up to one via “gradual steps.”

Is this what he means by “gradual steps”?

Leviyev said a more likely scenario would be a “partial mobilization in some border regions or involving some recently demobilized troops. If such a partial mobilization is undertaken, it would be realistic to add some 200,000 troops with their gear,” he said.

Samus offers a similar prognosis. “You don’t need mobilization to gather 100,000-200,000 troops in Russia,” he said. “It is a big country and in the repressed regions there are sufficient people who would go fight if you paid them enough. I think it wouldn’t be hard to find those people with an elementary recruitment campaign.”

There are signs that such a partial mobilization is already under way in Russia, says Vladimir Milov, a former deputy energy minister who is now a leading opposition figure. “Thousands of people in the regions are writing to ask how they can avoid being conscripted and sent to Ukraine,” Milov told RFE/RL. “They are already signing up everyone they can.”

That seems like the safest play. Full mobilization would frighten and enrage too many Russians who didn’t expect to have to fight in Ukraine. (“It is one thing to watch it like an amusing computer game, but it is another when it directly affects many Russians and their families,” said one Russian analyst to Radio Free Europe.) Partial mobilization would spare the average joe and instead activate reserves who are already more or less prepared to fight. Putin needs manpower in Ukraine quickly, remember; a mass mobilization that takes six months to get conscripts up to snuff is likely too late.

We’ll know in around 48 hours. Keep an eye on Ukraine news this weekend, though, as both sides will be looking for splashy symbolic victories wherever they can grab them to try to control the narrative on Victory Day. Zelensky, for instance, is trying to counterprogram Putin by asking the chancellor of Germany to meet with him in Kiev on Monday. Russia may or may not be preparing to humiliate thousands of captured Ukrainians by marching through the streets of Mariupol on Monday as a sort of war trophy. Putin is reportedly set to celebrate at Monday’s parade by having his nuclear “doomsday” plane do a fly-by of Moscow, just to remind NATO what the potential stakes are here.

I’ll leave you with this, in which Russia’s finest nationalist minds try to explain how a democratic country with a Jewish president can properly be regarded as “Nazi.”