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Vladimir Putin keeps open option of drafting more Russians

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Vladimir Putin appears to have allowed for future waves of mobilisation after declining to end a decree that has called up tens of thousands of Russians to fight in Ukraine.

Russia’s defence ministry this weekend announced the end to the “partial mobilisation” that Putin declared in mid-September. Yet Russian legal activists and media noted that only Putin had the authority to end the mobilisation, leading him on Monday to claim he “hadn’t thought about that” and would “speak with lawyers”.
On Tuesday, the Kremlin announced that Putin would not sign any order.

“We inform you: the decree is not needed, we have the conclusion of the state legal department of the presidential administration in this regard,” said Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesperson. At the same time, he maintained, Russia’s partial mobilisation “has been completed”

The Kremlin is walking a fine line, both managing the public backlash over its mass mobilisation, while retaining maximum leverage over the Russians who have already been called up and those who may be mobilised in the future.

Moscow’s decision appears to achieve two objectives: first, it means that the Russians who have been mobilised will remain in service until the Kremlin ends the invasion of Ukraine or a separate decision is made to “de-mobilise” them. And second, if the Kremlin does decide to mobilise more Russians, it won’t require a new presidential order to do so.

“The end of mobilisation would relieve the authorities of the possibility of beginning further mobilisation, if it’s needed, without a new order,” wrote Pavel Chikov, a human rights lawyer and chair of the Agora International Human Rights Group. “The end of mobilisation will automatically give all the [mobilised] contract soldiers the right to resign from military service.”

Meanwhile, Russian MPs have suggested tough five-year prison sentences for draft-dodgers, and Russian draft offices said they would receive access to more public data.

The Levada Center, an independent pollster, reported that the “drop in morale” among Russians due to the announcement of mobilisation in September had been unprecedented. “There has not been such a sharp one-time mood deterioration during the entire time of observations,” it said in a report last week.

The pollster said that the mood was the worst in Russia since 2000, an unstable period when Russia was still recovering from a financial crisis, Putin had assumed power after Boris Yeltsin suddenly announced his resignation, and military operations had resumed in Chechnya.

In a report on Tuesday, the Russian defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, said 87,000 out of 300,000 mobilised Russians had been sent into the conflict zone.

Many have complained about being sent there without formal training, with broken equipment, a shortage of weapons, and unclear orders. A number of them and their families have appealed to the Kremlin, complaining of corruption and negligence.

“An order about the end of partial mobilisation would calm the public but it is unlikely that the authorities have plans to do so,” said Chikov.

Russia is counting on the tens of thousands of soldiers to help stabilise their frontlines and to free up their professional troops to halt the Ukrainian counteroffensive. While the defence ministry claimed it would call up 300,000 Russians, press reports have suggested the number, which was classified, could be as high as a million.

Other senior lawmakers have said that further drafts in Russia cannot be ruled out.

“I think everything will depend on the military-political situation in the future,” said Viktor Sobolev, a member of the Duma committee on defence. “If, like now, combat is only taking place on Ukrainian territory, I think that the mobilisation which took place will be enough. But western aggression against Russia grows, then without doubt, a [new] mobilisation will be needed. But if the situation develops negatively, we’ll probably need not just a partial, but a full mobilisation.”

He added: “And then, of course, we’ll need a new order.”

Russia has repeatedly blamed its botched military campaign in Ukraine on western interference, including the British navy. On Tuesday, the Kremlin repeated an accusation that the UK was behind the explosion that damaged the Nord Stream pipelines, which carry gas from Russia to Europe, in September.

Peskov said Russia was considering what “further steps” to take in connection with its allegation. “Such actions cannot be put aside. Of course, we will think about further steps,” he said.

Earlier, the Russian defence ministry had claimed that the British navy was involved in the “planning, provision and implementation of a terrorist attack in the Baltic Sea”.” Without providing evidence, Russia has also accused the UK of aiding Ukraine in its raid on the Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol this weekend.

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