The announcement of partial mobilization without openly documented numbers and timeline marked the Kremlin's transition to an escalation scenario - something we talked about back in late spring, and its likelihood has only increased since then as Russia has weakened on the battlefield. Interestingly, the 1997 law on mobilization training and mobilization, an atavism of the Soviet era, clearly states:
“The President <...> in cases of aggression against the Russian Federation or an imminent threat of aggression, the emergence of armed conflicts directed against the Russian Federation, shall declare general or partial mobilization with immediate notification thereof to the Federation Council and the State Duma.”
Of course, the aggression is carried out by the Russian Federation itself. This means that the mobilization is intended if not to implement the Kremlin's plan - in the form of the destruction of Ukraine as a state and Ukrainian culture (it’s not possible) - then at least to improve the foreign policy position of Russia in the current critical situation. Here, too, the Kremlin may attempt to squeeze acceptable cease-fire terms out of Kiev and its allies, followed by multilateral negotiations – while continuing the war, trying to save the defeated Russian troops, and even involving NATO countries in the war.
Continuation of the war, mobilization, and escalation are an attempt to squeeze acceptable ceasefire terms out of Kiev and its allies
Nevertheless, the mobilization raises a whole range of problems that inspire confidence in its failure and inability to seriously affect anything.
First, a “rubber mobilization” without deadlines or clear parameters inevitably undermines the credibility of the Russian authorities, even among those who pay lip service to the war. In other words, mobilization delegitimizes the Kremlin.
Second, in Russia, with its authoritarian rule, the republican type of mobilization that we see in Ukraine and that we have seen before in history, such as during the French Revolution or the American Civil War, is simply not possible. This type of mobilization is based on mutual trust between the authorities (at all levels) and civil society. In addition, it needs civil society itself, with its horizontal ties and consolidation, on which, among other things, the supply of a republican army relies.
In an authoritarian system, all this is impossible. Only forced mobilization is possible, as we saw with Lenin and Trotsky, with Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, and Pol Pot. Moreover, to succeed, this type of mobilization needs a huge rural population, which constitutes a resource for mobilization waves. At the same time, such population must be sufficiently scattered across the country to prevent it from organizing resistance to the authorities as much as possible.
“Rubber mobilization” without deadlines and clear parameters inevitably undermines the credibility of the Russian authorities, even among those who pay lip service to the war
Russia has moved away from the agrarian society, so the impossibility of successful forced mass mobilization, and, moreover, its being unnecessary and even harmful for success in modern war became obvious to the Soviet command in the 1980s. A little later, during perestroika, the natural problem of the amorality of such mobilization, with its fundamentally inhumane and anticultural character, was discussed. Nevertheless, Russia proved unable to create the armed forces of a democratic republic or the republic itself.
As a result, it will have to carry out a forced mobilization in a reality unsuitable for mass coercion with impunity. Russian citizens, who had been holding on to the crumbling remnants of their former lives throughout the months of war and who were caught off guard by the mobilization, will increasingly resist. And above all, this resistance will grow within a developed culture of sabotage rather than open protest. And the growth of violence will inevitably begin to generate retaliatory violence: this vector was confirmed last weekend in Dagestan.
Resistance will primarily grow within the framework of a developed culture of sabotage
There is, however, one crucial, but somehow overlooked contradiction. The authorities force the mobilized citizens to sign a contract - which de jure means their “self-mobilization” - through psychological pressure, threats, and the use of legal illiteracy (at the same time, according to Article 421 of the Civil Code on freedom of contract, signing such a contract is an a priori voluntary matter). This is how the Kremlin is trying to leave itself a loophole: “Boy, we did not force you to go to this war, you signed the contract yourself.” This removes the question of the paragraph of the law on mobilization which conditions it on the existence of aggression or a threat of aggression against Russia. In addition, neither the already serving nor freshly “mobilized contract servicemen” in the conditions of even partial mobilization are able to terminate their contract. So what we end up with is not even a mobilization army in the style of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but a kind of “military servitude.”
In essence, by this step, the Kremlin is shifting its responsibility for the war onto the mobilized citizens. Apparently, it is trying to forestall the threat of politicization for the formerly apolitical Russians, since their noses can be always rubbed in the fact that they are contract servicemen. And what's more, it is trying to build a defensive line in advance in case of a future international tribunal: “Not only we, the specific leaders, are to blame, but the many thousands of Russian citizens who signed the contract for the murder of the Ukrainians - by and large, the entire Russian people.”
The Kremlin shifts its responsibility for the war onto the mobilized citizens
Third, the 2009-2012 military reforms in Russia disbanded the cadre units that were supposed to be deployed in the event of mobilization at the expense of mobilized citizens. Thus, the question arises: where to send the mobilized today? The only answer is: to those units that suffered losses in Ukraine and were withdrawn from the battlefield to be re-staffed. However, this means that not only privates have been lost, but also sergeants, warrant officers, and officers, i.e. precisely those who must command the mobilized. Accordingly, further growth of confusion and organizational chaos in the troops are inevitable.
Fourth, the current “partial mobilization” is focused on the mobilization of soldiers and does not imply the introduction of martial law. And it is already obvious that the Russian economy, and the authorities, are simply not ready for such a turnaround. Roughly speaking, a factory that used to work a standard eight-hour workday producing some kind of missiles cannot be switched to a 24/7 operation. There is neither enough equipment, nor enough employees, nor appropriate capabilities of suppliers and subcontractors for that. The same can be said about the authorities: it is impossible to send people to kill Ukrainians and try to fight their resistance and the growing imbalances from 8:00 to 17:00 with a lunch break five days a week. Thus, a transition to martial law and full mobilization is extremely likely - and these, according to the same law on mobilization training, will enable the mobilization of authorities and enterprises.
As a consequence, authoritarian forced mobilization inevitably leads to an attempt to reanimate the planned economy. It is clear, however, that only an idiot can believe in the success of such a model, and the command-administrative system itself will only exacerbate the ongoing self-destruction of the Kremlin and Russia as a whole.
Fifth, the choice of the Kremlin, which is becoming weaker and has lost a significant part of its army, in favor of escalation generally aggravates the isolation of Russia and finally sets it against the rest of the world. In this situation, mobilization only prolongs the agony of the regime and increases the moral and material price that the Russian people will have to pay at the end of this war. One might recall that Germany, for example, did not complete reparation payments for World War I until 2010, 92 years after its defeat.
Today, unlike on February 24, 2022 or even last spring, Russia's very statehood is in question. And even if the country survives this war and can be re-established in one form or another, we will still be paying the bills in the XXII century.