Reminder from FTChinese.com: If you are interested in more FTChinese.com content, please search for “FTChinese.com” in the Apple App Store or Google App Market to download the official app of FTChinese.com.
On September 20, Putin is said to be giving a major speech that will be his first since Russia invaded Ukraine in February. There is widespread anxiety among Muscovites that he is likely to issue an order for full-scale military mobilization at the time of the speech in response to the reality that the Ukrainian war is failing. Also on this day, Russia’s parliament passed a bill increasing penalties for desertion, damage to military property and disobedience in situations of military mobilization or combat. The package is seen as Putin paving the way for a mass recruitment of civilians. That day, the price of air tickets from Moscow to Istanbul rose sharply.
That night, Putin temporarily canceled the speech, leaving everyone puzzled. The next day, Putin announced a partial military mobilization and enlisted some reservists. Those in the know pointed out that the recruitment decree itself does not set restrictions on recruitment, and who is recruited depends entirely on Putin’s decision. In other words, Putin does not need to re-enact legislation to conduct a substantial mobilization.
One naturally wonders: is this partial military mobilization a prelude to a full-scale military mobilization?
To answer this question, I am afraid we need to know what difficulties Putin has in full-scale military mobilization.
Back in May, Michael Kimmage and Maria Lipman wrote in Foreign Affairs that Putin was caught in a dilemma: If more human and material resources were not mobilized , there is no way to make progress in Ukraine. But a full-scale mobilization would break some of the invisible contracts that Putin’s regime has made with the people over the years – the Russian people are content with stability and wealth, and leave a large part of public politics at Putin’s disposal as long as those political decisions are not overly intrusive Private living space and civil society. Therefore, when Putin decided to invade Ukraine, he called the war a “special military operation,” emphasizing its limited nature and scale to appease the Russian public.
Other researchers have a similar view that Putin’s regime is based on people’s political apathy. This is also in line with people’s traditional understanding of the logic of authoritarian government rule.
In fact, the Russian public is not completely indifferent. To a certain extent, they are sympathetic to Russian nationalism and certain imperial ambitions. According to the Levada Center, an independent Russian polling agency, three-quarters of respondents supported Russia’s war in Ukraine (only 17% said they did not). It was 85 percent among older people, and 65 percent among younger people (18 to 24). Nearly 70 percent believe that Russia as a whole is on the right path. The Levada Center’s survey is consistent with the findings of several other sources (although 10 percent of those who support the war may be expedient).
But even in this positive support there is a constraint on Putin in that post-Cold War Russian nationalism is largely paradoxical.
As a whole, the Russians are hardly the beneficiaries of the empire, whether in the Tsarist Russia era or in the Soviet era. In the era of Tsarist Russia, ordinary Russians ranked at the bottom of the empire in terms of average income, life expectancy, and tax burden. As noted in The Cambridge History of Russia, “Until the mid-nineteenth century, the tsarist regime was less a Russian national regime than a dynastic aristocratic empire. As was often the case in pre-modern empires , Russia’s core population is in some ways more exploited than marginal minorities.” A common complaint of Russians in Soviet times was also that Russia was a net loser in the economic exchange of the republics (which was indeed true). ).
Precisely because of this historical experience, when the post-Cold War era came, Russians realized their Russian national identity historically and politically for the first time. When Russian nationalism was on the rise, Russians were more demanding that the Russian state be responsible for Russia. People are in charge (the government should take care of the Russian ethnicity first), the reunification of the Russian nation or the strength of the Russian state, the importance of which is to be ranked later (there are 30 million Russian/Russian population living outside the Russian Federation).
In other words, there are two important strands of Russian nationalism today, one concerned with the need to maintain a strong state and less concerned with national interests and racial purity (as long as the country is big and strong, the racial makeup of the Russian population will not so important), the other faction is more grassroots and racist. The latter is actually a mainstream idea among the people (which is supported by various polls). For example, the largest nationalist movement in Russia has long been the movement against illegal immigration. Another example is that although Alexei Navalny is considered a liberal and the chief opponent of Putin’s authoritarian government, he is also trying to attract popular support by shouting “Stop The slogan “Feed the Caucasus” (stop providing federal subsidies to the Caucasus) shows that this sentiment is deeply immersed in the people.
In short, although Russian nationalism and chauvinism are the primary ideologies of the Putin regime, the imperialist enthusiasm of the Putin regime may not be as strong as we think. A Russian living in St. Petersburg or Moscow may embrace Putin’s Ukraine war as part of imperial glory, but they probably don’t want to repeat the mistakes of Tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union – the Russians became the empire’s crusade. The main force, but do not enjoy the empire. They prefer that marginal areas and geo-ethnic groups bear the cost of this war, not themselves.
Now we can go back and look at the difficulties of Putin’s full-scale military mobilization: one, it will break his potential contract with Russian society; two, it will highlight that Putin is not a competent “Russian” czar. Perhaps because of this, Putin deliberately emphasizes that his current mobilization is only “partial mobilization.” Also, judging by the current state of mobilization, it seems that citizens of the marginal areas of the Russian Federation are being recruited disproportionately: the Republic of Buryatia has a population of only 978,000, and 6,000-7,000 people have been recruited, which is equivalent to the national average. Three times (if only 300,000 people were really mobilized across Russia).
So, will Putin conduct a full-scale military mobilization? Now my personal guess is, it depends, but before that, he will definitely try to exhaust the manpower in the marginal areas first.
(Note: Zheng Fei, an academic layman, is the author of the two books “The Craft of Empire” and “The Failure of Empire”. This article only represents the author’s personal views. The editor in charge is email [email protected])