Staunton, May 5 – There has been much speculation as to whether Vladimir Putin will declare a full-scale mobilization in order to improve Russia’s chances in its war in Ukraine although the Kremlin says he has no intention of doing so, but there has been remarkably little discussion of exactly what such a mobilization would mean.
Pavel Chikov, head of the Agora human rights group, is a welcome exception. In Meduza, he discusses both what mobilization means in Russian law and also what shape it would likely take if Putin does eventually declare it (meduza.io/feature/2022/05/05/esli-putin-vse-taki-ob-yavit-mobilizatsiyu-menya-otpravyat-v-ukrainu-a-chto-budet-esli-ya-otkazhus-voevat).
The picture he describes is anything but straightforward with a large number of issues left open even if mobilization is declared. Mobilization was defined in Russian law in 1997 (consultant.ru/document/cons_doc_LAW_13454/), he says; but as it has never been fully declared, there are many uncertainties about how it would actually work.
“The law allows mobilization in the event of aggression or armed attack against Russia. Declaring mobilization legally recognizes that Russia is at a state of war with another country. If the war is not on Russian soil, however, the law does not permit the declaration of a mobilization because aggression and wars of aggression are prohibited by international law,” he continues.
For that reason, Chikov says, “mobilization is possible only in the event of aggression from another state.” Moscow might claim that Ukrainian counterattacks constitute aggression even though they all are on Ukrainian territory. It could also make it countrywide or limit it to specific regions within the country.
In general, he continues, “Generally speaking, mobilization concerns men and women in the reserve. Women with specific skills, like doctors, would be subject to conscription. Russia’s reserves include discharged veterans, graduates of military schools, men older than 27 who never served in the military despite being eligible, men older than 27 whose service was deferred, men who did not serve due to physical limitations or other temporary conditions.”
Chikov continues: “Mobilization would not apply to individuals with the right to deferment from conscription during mobilization. And in addition, “citizens younger than 27 who did not serve as conscripts but were never actually exempted from the draft would not be subject to conscription under mobilization because they’re not technically ‘in the reserve.’”
But “those who served in Russia’s alternative civilian service would be subject to recruitment since mobilization is not limited strictly to combat roles. The armed forces can conscript these people as civilian personnel, for example, to serve as medical workers at hospitals.”
“There is no profession that releases people from mobilization, but the list of codified exemptions is broad and includes conditions like illness, disability, and serious health problems suffered by a close relative” (consultant.ru/document/cons_doc_LAW_18260/). But whether the authorities would observe these limitations is uncertain.
“Anyone drafted in a mobilization could lose their right to leave the country, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that all conscripts would face this restriction,” Chikov says; and “0nce mobilization has been announced, the authorities would begin issuing draft-board summons and detaining potential conscripts in the street.”
“Anyone who receives mobilization orders is required to appear at the military barracks or recruitment office designated in the summons. This obligation exists only after the summons is physically delivered, however, meaning that Russians located abroad, beyond the reach of the state’s subpoenas, can evade conscription by staying away.”
The mobilization law specifies that “under conditions of mobilization, citizens considered to be “in the reserve” could be sent directly into battle, given the assumption that they’ve already received all the necessary basic training. Fresh conscripts, on the other hand, would first have to first undergo at least four months of training.”
According to Chikov, Putin “also has the power to declare a military emergency simultaneously with mobilization. For example, an emergency could be declared in specific areas of Russia near the border with Ukraine, but this is a different legal condition regulated under a separate federal law” (consultant.ru/document/cons_doc_LAW_35227/).
But in this case as well, there is no precedent, so it is impossible to say precisely what the Kremlin would do, the Agora rights activist says.
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