South of Moscow in Voronezh, military recruitment centres are instructing draft-age men to update their personal information.
Photo: OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP via Getty Images
A similar process is taking place in Penza region and Udmurtia, where the regional governor appeared on state-controlled TV to reassure people that there is no compulsory mobilization happening, only a request for volunteers willing to "defend the Fatherland and its interests."
Since President Vladimir Putin initiated the largest land war in Europe since WWII 13 months ago, Russian forces have experienced significant – and some Western officials claim "catastrophic" – casualties. The U.S. State Department recently estimated the number of Russian dead and wounded to be over 200,000. Ukraine, which has carefully guarded its losses, may have sustained at least 120,000 casualties, according to the Washington Post.
Faced with ongoing battlefield setbacks, Russia has resorted to recruitment campaigns twice to bolster its forces.
In September, Putin surprised many by announcing the mobilization of 300,000 reservists and other military-eligible individuals. Now, as the winter offensive in eastern Donbas falters and Ukraine signals its own spring offensive, Russian officials are again attempting to increase their numbers.
Human rights lawyer Pavel Chikov reports that at least 42 regions are issuing summons to eligible men, and one pro-government news site says the goal is to enlist up to 400,000 individuals.
Despite this, the Kremlin continues to deny any mobilization. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed discussions of a "second wave of mobilization" on March 15.
However, some believe another mobilization may be inevitable. Dara Massicot, a defense researcher at U.S.-based think tank RAND Corporation, suggests that Russia may choose between a series of small call-ups or a massive mobilization.
For years, Russia has attempted to modernize and streamline its armed forces, though mandatory conscription remains in place for men aged 18 to 27. While the invasion of Ukraine has evolved into a war of attrition, Russian military officials have hinted that more troops may be needed.
In the past, the Defense Ministry has sought volunteers, or "kontraktniki," and even allowed the infamous private mercenary company Wagner Group to recruit prison inmates in exchange for clemency. Recently, the Kremlin adjusted the age limits for volunteer service.
In December, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu stated that Russia aimed to increase its armed forces to 1.5 million, though he attributed this to NATO's expansion, particularly Finland's impending membership.
However, previous recruitment efforts have been chaotic, with numerous complaints regarding weaponry, equipment, and training.
Ura.ru reports that the new recruitment campaign, overseen by former president Dmitry Medvedev, aims to add 400,000 soldiers across Russia. Recruitment quotas have been issued to regional military authorities.
Massicot questions whether the current summons represent a formal recruitment effort or simply preparation for an upcoming drive. She also doubts that officials will achieve their recruitment goals.
Russian sociologist Nikolai Mitrokhin at the University of Bremen in Germany has identified 31 regions already sending out paperwork and registration documents. He believes the second wave of mobilization has begun, but it remains unclear who will be called up and whether coercive measures will be needed to meet quotas.
In Chita, southern Siberia, military recruiter Yury Shuvalov reported that new training classes for reservists are being organized alongside the issuance of summons.
Meanwhile, the biannual conscription draft, separate from any additional mobilization efforts, is set to begin on April 1. Russian officials hope to conscript between 170,000 and 200,000 men to be drafted in the spring draught.
Verstka, an independent online news site, claimed anonymous authorities in Voronezh and an unspecified Siberian area as saying that for the time being, the mobilisation drive will focus on volunteers; no one will be forced to join and transferred to Ukraine.
"You can decline the opportunity to go to the front," the official reportedly told Verstka.