The Kremlin is making a search. The Russian occupation of Ukraine’s sovereign territories and involvement in the bloody Syrian conflict has caused a serious problem in manning army units with high-skilled specialists. This means that it is not so simple to force people to play the role of obedient little tin soldiers.
While at the initial stage of the war these personnel-related problems were mostly solved by recruiting the already trained special-purpose servicemen as well as agents of the Federal Security Service, the General Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, the Foreign Intelligence Service, and other special services, now this problem began to assume a critical nature due to the intensification of the conflict and the growing irretrievable losses among the Russian military personnel.
Taking into account that Moscow is considering the possibility of a fast buildup of its armed forces’ strength in the Western direction, the question of human resources mobilization assumes vital importance. As the organic personnel is no longer sufficient to form full-fledged battalion-based tactical groups of invasion, Russia’s leadership is forced not only to additionally man its army units with contract soldiers, but also to vigorously prosecute draft-dodgers and recruit Russian conscripts and reservists, as well as foreigners who meet the Russian Defense Ministry’s requirements. Moscow is rapidly amending the law, in fact legalizing the unlawful practice of sending servicemen “on a temporary duty assignment” to the territory of Ukraine as contract soldiers as well as of recruiting the necessary number of “volunteers,” “war game participants,” and “reservists-mercenaries” on ostensibly “legal” national grounds. One of the interesting “inventions,” as part of the legislative changes, is a clause that allows 18-30-year-old foreigners who “have not breached the law” to serve on contract, without even being granted Russian citizenship, and take part in acts of war, including “international conflicts” abroad.
For Ukraine, it is a real challenge which means that Russia can deploy very rapidly a mass-scale army of invasion and occupation disguised as a “peacekeeping, counterterrorist, and anti-extremist force.”
It is also noteworthy that the demographic situation in Russia shows a tendency towards further deterioration, and, against this backdrop, Russian experts estimate that almost 25 million Russian-speaking people abroad, mostly in the CIS countries, can be regarded as potential recruits to serve on contract in Russia. For this reason, the overall economic crisis in the region is even of benefit to Moscow because it increases the number of potential candidates for obedient “cannon fodder” at a reasonable price. A wide-scale headhunt has been organized in Central Asia, the Caucasus, and the self-proclaimed South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Transnistria. Of course, there is also a danger that the Ukrainian citizens who stay on the territory of Russia or on the Russia-occupied areas may be lured into serving in the Russian army on contract. Incidentally, this is viewed as one of Moscow’s potential trump cards – to attract a certain part of Ukrainians and present it as formation of all kinds of “national liberation armies” or “Ukrainian national units” on the basis of the Russian armed forces. We can cite a historical precedent for this: in 1917-20 the occupied territory and the uprising centers of Ukraine saw the formation of “Soviet Ukrainian” regular troops and insurgent detachments that acted on direct instructions from Moscow but were formally subordinated to the “Soviet Ukrainian government” in Kharkiv. It is true that those regular formations comprised quite a large number of ethnic Ukrainian Red Guardsmen. Incidentally, also a good example is the Soviet-Finnish war, when Finnish “people’s” armed units were formed officially under the aegis of the so-called Democratic Republic of Finland. As is known, the latter was established in the USSR and proclaimed on December 1, 1939.
Therefore, Soviet Russia, the USSR, and the Russian Federation as their legal successor, have considerable experience in forming “people’s” and “democratic” republics with “peoples’ armies” and “ethnic-based units” for the purpose of seizing foreign territories and establishing puppet regimes in other countries. Moreover, the Russian leadership is obviously trying to use the potential of post-Soviet countries in its own neo-imperial interests as much as possible. What also proves this is the statement of a well-known Russian military expert, Lieutenant-General Yury Netkachev, that Russia is interested in recruiting foreign contract servicemen because “a changed geopolitical situation in the post-Soviet space and the revised military doctrine compel Russia to form a common defense space with a number of ex-Soviet countries.
The Center for Army, Conversion, and Disarmament Studies has come to the conclusion that if a large number of CIS citizens are recruited to serve on contract in the Russian army, Russia’s leadership will get a powerful lever of strong-arm influence on ex-Soviet countries as part of its present-day imperial policy of waging the so-called “hybrid wars” that involve illegal armed formations and may result at any time in an outright armed aggression by Russia.
But there is a no lesser related danger. Experts do not rule out that Russia’s armed forces may be recruiting and training a lot of foreign-born people in order to use them as guided extremists and terrorists – both individually and as part of groups and organizations. Obviously, one of the likely assignments can be destabilization both in the countries of their origin and citizenship and in other countries where special operations are being conducted.
There already exists a danger that this kind of terrorist groupings and organizations under the cover of Russian special services may be used to create a mass-scale flow of pseudo-refugees from conflict-ridden countries to Western Europe and other rival states, which will undermine their domestic security and socioeconomic stability. What proves the likely growth of this danger is the ever-increasing number of militants from Russia and CIS countries, who are taking an active part in the extremist and terrorist activities of ISIS (“Islamic State”) in Syria and Iraq and of the Taliban in Afghanistan, as well as participation of Russian and Serbian citizens in the preparation of terrorist acts in Montenegro in October 2016.
Incidentally, the Soufan Group, a US consulting company that offers intelligence information to governments and international organizations, has spotted more than 2,400 militants with Russian citizenship (mostly Chechens and Dagestanis) and 1,000 from Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan in Syria. And the US Combating Terrorism Center in West Point has identified at least 141 militants with Russian citizenship, 72 from Uzbekistan, and 47 from Kyrgyzstan. What is more, CIS militants are even known to hold leading positions in ISIS.
What is Ukraine supposed to do in the situation when Russia’s actions had, from the very outset, the signs of war crimes under international law and of criminal offenses under the national legislation of Ukraine? In the situation when the Russian leadership is always seeking new ways to misinform and deceive the international community and its own citizens about recruiting Russian contract servicemen as well as mercenaries of Russian and foreign origin, one must appeal to Russian society and explain how to save oneself during the Kremlin’s aggression.
As a matter of fact, it is worthwhile to send in any possible way recommendations to Russian army servicemen and law-enforcers who are forced to commit illegal actions and war crimes on the territory of Ukraine. In the conditions when the Russian judicial authorities grossly flout legislative norms and there is no chance of a fair decision in the cases connected with Russia’s hidden aggression against Ukraine, it is important for servicemen to receive orders in writing. A serviceman has a legitimate right to do so – otherwise he becomes a war criminal (as is the case of the Buk antiaircraft missile crew that downed the Malaysian MH17 liner over the Ukrainian territory, killing 298 innocent people). Besides, the servicemen who do not wish to take part in criminal military actions in Ukraine can use the documents or copies of combat orders, maps, and charts as proof of the necessity to be given political asylum or legal assistance and protection.
This kind of counteractions should be of a systemic and continuous nature, and the active part of civil society, volunteers, the media, and nongovernmental organizations should do their best to keep the Russians informed. This can be the first step in establishing the grounds for naming Putin personally and his inner circle as international criminals.