Russian President Vladimir Putin boasted on Tuesday that hundreds of thousands of volunteers are rushing to join the Russian military and fight in Ukraine.
He portrayed the partial mobilization order he signed in September 2022 as one of the most successful recruiting drives in history, bringing a quarter of a million fresh troops into the Russian war machine.
“As you know, we carried out a partial mobilization, we drafted 300,000 people. Now, in the past 6 to 7 months, 270,000 people voluntarily signed contracts for service in the armed forces and volunteer units,” Putin said at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, where he may meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un shortly. Kim’s armored train reportedly entered Russia on Tuesday.
“1,000 to 1,500 people come to sign a contract with the Russian armed forces every day,” Putin claimed.
Various other Russian officials have claimed recruiting targets from Putin’s mobilization order were handily met. The Russian Defense Ministry reported in August that over 231,000 recruits have enrolled for voluntary military service since the beginning of 2023.
The far-left New York Times (NYT) newspaper noted in August that Moscow gets young men to enlist by questioning their manhood:
There were frequent appeals to masculinity, sometimes voiced by soldiers’ wives and other women interviewed on television news. There were incessant reminders of above-average pay and benefits for military servicemen. And the messages — appearing both in video ads produced by the Defense Ministry and on regular TV newscasts — stress the ease of signing up, promising relief from Russia’s notorious bureaucracy.
The campaign appeared to start in April. Online, the Defense Ministry published a splashy video ad focusing on two central motivations: machismo, and money. It defines military service as more meaningful — and manly — than what’s depicted as the Russian man’s typical, humdrum existence. After moody shots of civilians transforming into modern warriors, the ad ends with a more down-to-earth reminder: “Monthly payments starting at 204,000 rubles,” or about $2,000.
Of course, Russian state media does not dwell on the unpleasant realities of the front line in Ukraine, and news anchors incessantly repeat the hotline number for enlisting while they are busy not telling the public about how many men have died during the invasion.
The NYT noted there are good reasons to doubt Putin’s claims of “1,000 to 1,500” recruits per month, and another forced conscription could be on the way if manpower levels in Ukraine dip too low.
Some of Putin’s new troops are probably coming from the Wagner Group, the notoriously brutal mercenary organization whose founder Yevgeny Prigozhin was killed in a suspicious plane crash in August, two months after leading an armed mutiny against the Russian high command.
Prigozhin claimed he rebelled and began his “march for justice” on Moscow because Russian military leaders were attempting to forcibly conscript his Wagner mercenaries and tried to kill them with a missile strike when they refused.
Putin said in July that he offered military contracts to Wagner fighters, praising their effectiveness in Ukraine and absolving them of responsibility for the mutiny. He even offered to let Wagner units stay together under the same officers.
“All of them could have gathered in one place and continued to serve. And nothing would have changed for them. They would have been led by the same person who had been their real commander all along,” Putin said, claiming that his generous offer was rebuffed by the stubborn Prigozhin.
The Wagner Group paid considerably better than the regular Russian military, which in turn pays more than double the average Russian civilian salary. Wagner recruited extensively from prisons, an effort often led by Prigozhin himself, giving it access to manpower that might not meet the standards of the Russian military.
These factors could make it difficult for the Russian armed forces to completely absorb the Wagner Group now that Prigozhin is dead, but given the undisguised eagerness of Putin and other officials to induct as many seasoned Wagner fighters as possible, it seems likely that some of the latest Russian recruits heading into Ukraine are Prigozhin’s men.