September 12, 2023

Institute for the Study of War:  Russian leadership debates whether to stage another reserve mobilization 

Institute for the Study of War

Russian insider sources claimed that the Kremlin’s inner circle is again actively disagreeing about the necessity of and preparations for a second wave of reserve mobilization ahead of the semi-annual fall conscription cycle, which starts on October 1. A Russian Telegram channel with alleged connections to Russian security sources claimed that select Russian officials are “seriously” preparing for a second wave of reserve mobilization and are hoping to conduct another reserve mobilization wave in the fall. It is important to distinguish between Russia’s normal semi-annual conscription callup, a large-scale reserve mobilization like the one that brought more than 300,000 reservists into the Russian armed forces in Fall 2022, crypto-mobilizations that bring reservists into the force at lower numbers over a long period of time, and various efforts to encourage or coerce Russians to sign ostensibly voluntary contracts with the Russian military. The channel claimed that Russian officials want to mobilize between 170,000 to 175,000 reservists and move the fall conscription date from October 1 to November 1 to accommodate a reserve mobilization processes, while simultaneously conducting “contract mobilization” to recruit an additional 130,000 personnel for contract service using coercive measures. The channel claimed that a powerful group of “siloviki hawks” is also proposing stricter reserve mobilization measures such as restricting certain individuals from obtaining mobilization deferrals, which has sparked major disagreements with officials in the Russian Presidential Administration. The channel claimed that the Presidential Administration fears a response to such measures from other Russian officials and broader Russian society.

These plans, proposals, and disagreements are not new and do not indicate that Russian President Vladimir Putin has ultimately decided to conduct a second reserve mobilization wave in the near term. ISW previously observed an increase in discussions about reserve mobilization preparations and speculations in the lead-up to the spring conscription cycle earlier in 2023. Select Russian officials have also proposed more dramatic mobilization measures that have not materialized. Putin also emphasized Russian contract service recruitment rates when responding to the question about the potential second reserve mobilization wave at the Eastern Economic Forum on September 12. Putin’s response does not necessarily set information conditions to prepare Russian society for involuntary mobilization and instead may suggest his commitment to ongoing crypto mobilization practices. Any new reserve mobilization wave depends on Putin.

Putin also reamplified several boilerplate information operations falsely framing the Ukrainian counteroffensive as a failed endeavor and accused Ukraine of being unwilling to negotiate during his address at the Eastern Economic Forum. Putin claimed that the Ukrainian counteroffensive has failed to produce concrete results and presented likely very inflated numbers of claimed Ukrainian personnel and equipment losses. Putin also accused Ukraine of being unwilling to negotiate and claimed that Russia cannot pursue an end to hostilities as long as Ukraine is pursuing a counteroffensive, thereby furthering a longstanding Russian information operation that seeks to accuse Ukraine as being the party disinterested in negotiations in order to undermine Ukrainian battlefield successes and reduce international support for Ukraine, as ISW has previously reported.

Key Takeaways:

  • Russian insider sources claimed that the Kremlin’s inner circle is again actively disagreeing about the necessity of and preparations for a second wave of reserve mobilization ahead of the semi-annual fall conscription cycle, which starts on October 1.
  • These plans, proposals, and disagreements are not new and do not indicate that Russian President Vladimir Putin has ultimately decided to conduct a second reserve mobilization wave in the near term.
  • Putin also reamplified several boilerplate information operations falsely framing the Ukrainian counteroffensive as a failed endeavor and accused Ukraine of being unwilling to negotiate during his address at the Eastern Economic Forum.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un arrived in Primorsky Krai on September 12 and will meet with Putin in the coming days, likely to discuss the provision of North Korean artillery munitions to Russia.
  • Russian authorities have reportedly adjusted air defense systems around Moscow in light of recent increased drone strikes on the city, likely in part to assuage complaints in the Russian information space about the ineffectiveness of air defenses around the capital.
  • Russian forces conducted offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line, near Bakhmut, along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line, along the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area, and in western Zaporizhia and advanced in some areas on September 12.
  • Ukrainian forces conducted offensive operations in at least two sectors of the front on September 12 and advanced near Bakhmut, along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line, and in western Zaporizhia Oblast.
  • Russian officials introduced a bill to the Russian State Duma that would punish Russian servicemen fighting within volunteer armed formations for losing or deliberately destroying military equipment or supplies.
  • Russian occupation officials continue to deport children from occupied areas of Ukraine to Russia under the guise of recreational programs.
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