Prominent figures on Russian state television who had been cheerleading the first months of Vladimir Putin‘s invasion of Ukraine have taken on a more critical tone of how the mobilization of troops is being carried out.
The Russian president’s announcement on Wednesday of drafting reservists to stem his losses in Ukraine has been met by waves of protests, arrests and an exodus by Russians desperately trying to leave the country to avoid the call-up.
The draft has been beset by chaotic scenes of drunk soldiers, complaints of poor conditions and equipment, and most pertinently, mistakes in enlisting people who, according to the decree, should not have been called up in the first place.
The mobilization was intended for rank-and-file soldiers up to 35 years old, junior officers up to 50 years old, and senior officers up to 55 years old, but media figures have called out mistakes in the process while not criticizing Putin directly.
On her Telegram social-media channel, editor-in-chief of state-media outlet RT, Margarita Simonyan said that her office had been inundated with complaints about mobilization “violations,” including hundreds of people beyond the age limit being asked to serve.
Among them was a 56-year-old from the Vladimir region who had been treated for cancer, a 49-year-old diabetic from the Volgograd region, and a 48-year-old from Kazan, in the Republic of Tatarstan, who weighed 330 pounds and was also being treated for diabetes.
“We are dealing with distortions of mobilization. We’ve got entire departments—myself included—dropping everything, postponing our regular work, in trying to get justice for everyone who has been wrongfully mobilized,” Simonyan wrote.
She took to the airwaves to voice her disapproval on the Russia-1 program, Evening With Vladimir Solovyov, during which she told the anchor, “something needs to be done about it. We shouldn’t be upsetting people.”
Solovyov said that recruitment officers calling up older people should either be shot or sent to fight in Ukraine themselves.
Roman Babayan, the anchor of the show Svaya Pravda (One’s Truth) on state channel NTV, also expressed discontent at the mobilization process, telling viewers on Saturday: “You know what I am afraid of? I want the ones who are truly needed to be mobilized.”
He said enlistment officers “round up a bunch of people with no clear understanding as to whether this person is currently needed by the nation” and whether “he will be of any use?”
Babayan also called for troops to be properly trained and equipped and that “only then can we count on some changes on the battlefront.”
His comments in the clip tweeted by Russia watcher Julia Davis come as videos circulated on social media show troops complaining about dire conditions and decrepit equipment.
The U.S. think tank, The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), said on Monday that the Kremlin is “deflecting blame” for mobilization failures onto “the failing bureaucratic institutions responsible.”
The ISW said that, while the Kremlin is trying “to message its way out” of the outrage, “its narratives are unlikely to placate Russians who can perceive the real mistakes all around them.”
Unlike Russia’s failures in Ukraine, which can be massaged by propaganda, the violations in the call are so numerous that they are spreading by word of mouth.
“The Kremlin faces a daunting task in trying to calm the Russian people while still mobilizing enough men to keep fighting,” the ISW said. It added that Putin faces a struggle to fix, or appear to fix, the mobilization bureaucracy across 11 timezones while meeting mobilization quotas he has set.
“These imperatives are likely mutually exclusive in a short period of time, ” the ISW said.
Newsweek has contacted the Russian defense ministry for comment.
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