From Murmansk in the Arctic Circle to Perm in the Urals and Primorsky Krai in the Russian Far East, the call has been heard, appealing to both patriotism and Russian wallets.
Appropriate military experience is not always required.
Overall, analysts estimate that more than 30,000 volunteers could be mobilized to replenish Russian ranks that have been depleted in five months of fighting—between a quarter and a third of the forces deployed to win in eastern Donbass, where most of the volunteers will likely be sent.
Putin has long resisted the idea of general mobilization in Russia, and this spring’s call was similar to the 2021 call. These battalions are one way to replenish Russian military power without such a drastic step. They also seem to be focusing on poorer and more isolated regions, using the lure of quick money.
Katerina Stepanenko, a Russia researcher at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington, says: “Some battalions will be exclusively involved in combat support and combat support operations (such as logistics battalions or communications battalions), while others will reinforce already existing military units or form combat battalions.
But she adds: “Short-term training is unlikely to turn volunteers without prior experience into effective soldiers in any unit.”
CNN asked the Russian Defense Ministry for comment on the Volunteer Battalion program.
Patriotism and money
Stepanenko says the process is being conducted from Moscow. “The Kremlin has reportedly ordered all 85 constituent entities of the Russian Federation (regions of the Russian Federation plus occupied Crimea and Sevastopol) to recruit volunteer battalions to avoid declaring partial or full mobilization in Russia.”
But the regions are expected to help fund the recruitment, which she says “is placing a heavy burden on regional budgets.” According to Stepanenko, Krasnoyarsk in Siberia, for example, was supposed to allocate about $2 million for the project.
The qualifications required for entry vary from place to place. One online pilot in Kazan in Tatarstan said: “We invite men under the age of 49 who have previously served in the army and offer a contract for 4 months in your military specialty.”
In other countries, men under the age of 60 with no criminal record are eligible. Online notices often do not indicate previous military experience.
The Perm advertisement under the heading “Jobs for real men” is looking for “brave, brave, courageous, self-confident, extraordinary, comprehensively developed patriots of our people.”
According to reports, training is given for about one month – not much for a situation where recruits have little or no military experience. According to the standard policy of the Russian Ministry of Defense, all recruits signing a contract must undergo four weeks of combined arms training. It is unclear whether the same regime applies to all volunteers.
According to messages on social networks, part of the volunteer battalions have already passed the Mulino training ground near Nizhny Novgorod.
Volunteer contracts are usually concluded for a period of four months to a year. They promise much higher wages than the average for the regions of Russia. For example, battalions formed in Perm and the Kirov region in western Russia offer an income of 300,000 rubles a month (about $5,000), while in Bashkortostan, near the border with Kazakhstan, the minimum is 280,000 rubles. Bashkir volunteers from Bashkortostan are promised an additional 8,000 rubles a day for military operations.
A message circulated on the social networks of Bashkortostan said: “Over the summer, you can easily earn about a million rubles!”
The average monthly salary in these areas is between 30,000 and 45,000 rubles, which is about one-tenth of what a volunteer sent to the front line can receive.
There are other benefits as well. In Perm and Kirov, children of volunteers are promised preferential admission to universities. Volunteers will be given the status of “combat veteran” with a monthly lifetime stipend and benefits for housing and transportation.
And there is a scale of compensation for losses on the battlefield, in some cases more than 3 million rubles for a severe wound. In the event of the death of a volunteer, their family will receive 12.4 million rubles from the federal budget and 2 million from the region.
Some volunteers told the online publication Verstka that they are motivated by wages to, for example, build a house. Others seem inspired by patriotism; some just seem to want adventure.
One of them, named Vitaly, told Nestka: “I respect the achievements of our ancestors, and it’s hard for me to watch them spit on. And, of course, a nice bonus in the form of payments offered by the state.”
Others told Verstka that they were inspired to rid Ukraine of Nazism, a testament to the power of Russian state media that ruthlessly refutes the notion that Russia’s actions are aimed at denazifying Ukraine.
If all regions of Russia formed one battalion each, the costs would be significant. Katerina Stepanenko estimates that the 400-person unit will cost $1.2 million a month in wages, which she says is expensive given the program will not produce elite units.
From the Arctic to Central Asia
Chechen volunteers were the first to enter Ukraine shortly after the invasion began. Battalion “Vostok” participated in the battles in Mariupol, where he took an active part in infantry operations. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov often praised the Vostok Battalion.
At the end of April, Kadyrov announced on his Telegram channel that “hundreds of brave fighters from different parts of our vast country have decided to become part of the Russian Liberation Army.”
And in May, he announced that 200 “goodwill warriors” were graduating from the Russian Spetsnaz University in Gudermes and leaving for Ukraine every week.
According to some estimates, up to 8,000 Chechens left to fight in Ukraine. They took an active part in the campaigns to capture Severodonetsk and Lysichansk.
Volunteers from Buryatia in the Russian Far East were also recruited early on; several people were killed, including one well known for his fighting in Syria.
Recently, other Russian regions have also become more active. One of the brightest examples is the Republic of Bashkortostan.
Retired Navy officer Alik Kamaletdinov announced on social networks about the recruitment to the volunteer battalion, because “Bashkiria has always been the backbone of our state in difficult times … Let’s support our country and our President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin not in words but in deeds!”
The Governor of Bashkortostan, Radiy Khabirov, wrote on Telegram last week: “Today we are escorting the second Bashkir battalion to Donbass.”
“Thus, more than 800 volunteers, all the sons of Bashkortostan, will go to protect our country and the fraternal Donbass.”
Other regions that have begun to form volunteer battalions include Chelyabinsk in the Urals and Primorye in the Russian Far East. Photos of almost 300 Chelyabinsk volunteers were published last week.
The head of the military registration and enlistment office of Tatarstan, Yevgeny Tokmakov, said at a press conference that “battalions should be formed only from people from Tatarstan so that they can join the ranks, stand shoulder to shoulder, and know each other.”
Several detachments of Cossack fighters are also being formed – it is not surprising, given that in 2014 they actively participated in the hostilities in eastern Ukraine. The Orenburg region has already sent three Cossack battalions to the war.
The pace of recruitment is gaining momentum – in recent days, the Murmansk region beyond the Arctic Circle and the Tyumen region in Western Siberia have announced the formation of volunteer detachments.
“Crowd with Rifles”
It is not yet clear how these battalions – most of them smaller than a typical battalion – will be integrated into the Russian operation. Tatar and Bashkir units will be combined into motorized rifle battalions.
The volunteer battalion, formed in Primorsky Krai, will consist only of local residents and will go in support of the 155th Marine Guards Brigade, regional authorities said.
There are signs that a shortage of Russian labor in Ukraine is beginning to be felt. The Ukrainian Center for Countering Disinformation says it has found jobs for more than 20,000 Russian contractors in regional employment centers. There were constant reports that some of the battalion task forces had to be reorganized.
But, as one analyst put it, a battalion is more than a “mob with rifles.”
Stepanenko of the Institute for the Study of War said: “These poorly trained recruits are likely to be used as cannon fodder, given Russia’s past attitude towards conscripts and proxy units.”
It is hard to imagine how these disparate groups, unaware of the battlefield and rusty or missing military skills, will affect the conflict. The task of the infantry of the Russian troops was mainly to take up places already destroyed by fire from covered positions.
Nevertheless, according to Stepanenko, the Russians “continue to suffer heavy losses without achieving much success. Therefore, they need a constant influx of Russian labor to make up for their losses.”
The Ukrainian military is monitoring the formation of units. Vadim Skibitsky, a spokesman for the Main Intelligence Directorate, said Russia plans to form 16 new battalions by the end of July. He told the Krym.Realii Internet portal that “according to our estimates, there will be about 4,000 people in each region, including Crimea.” Skibitsky confirmed to CNN that his remarks were accurately relayed, but declined to provide further details.
Stepanenko believes that the ultimate goal is a hidden form of mobilization.
“Putin seems to lack confidence that the polls and protests in support of the war will survive the general mobilization. Recruitment into volunteer battalions or secret mobilization affects only a small percentage of servicemen and their families,” Stepanenko said.
“This separation allows Putin to control the emergence of an invasion without upsetting much of the Russian male population and their families.”