#9 'Mobilize me' or 'Mom, take me home'?

Updated: Oct 9

Post-release #9, June 12, 2022

Vladimir Zvonovsky, Nadia Evangelan, Elena Koneva

 

From the very beginning of the Russian army's invasion in Ukraine, military observers on both sides noted the obvious lack of their numbers for the tasks at hand. In the fourth month of this war, the question remains a central one: how many Russian Federation troops can be increased, whether the authorities are willing to declare some form of mobilization, and whether there are enough resources to do so. We cannot answer it from a military point of view: how qualified are the potential reserves of the army and how well equipped with military hardware. But we can assess the factors impacting the willingness of citizens to replenish this reserve. Here is an analysis of the influence of various factors on the willingness of personal participation in combat operations.

Our estimates are based on data from several surveys of Russian adults collected during March-May 2022. Data from the ‘Practices’, ‘Chronicles’, ‘Athena’, and Russian Field surveys were used. References to sources are given at the end of the text. The methodological issues of reachability and cooperation of respondents are discussed here. Russians' attitudes toward the operation itself are outlined here.

How many soldiers Russia has

Less than one-third (29%) of the surveyed population of Russia is considered to be liable for military service: the number of men between the ages of 18 and 50 in absolute terms amounts to more than 31 million people. The researchers asked respondents a question:

Are you currently ready to be mobilized into the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation? (The wording varied from survey to survey, but this was the question that was meant)

While Russia carries out a special military operation in Ukraine, the conscription implies participation in combat operations on Ukrainian territory or service in auxiliary units on Russia territory.

Table 1. Distribution of willingness to be mobilized in the Armed Forces of Russia among men liable for military service ('Practices', men of age 18-50, March 2022)
Table 1. Distribution of willingness to be mobilized in the Armed Forces of Russia among men liable for military service ('Practices', men of age 18-50, March 2022)

Approximately a quarter of the respondents who areliable for military service stated that they have medical withdrawal to serve, and 5% are currently already serving in various state enforcement structures (approximately 1.6 million people). According to various sources, 2.6 million people serve in the Russian law enforcement agencies (Defence Ministry, Interior Ministry, Rosgvardiya, MES, FSB, FSO, FPS, prosecutor's office). Some of them, in particular in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Emergency Situations, and the Federal Penitentiary Service are women. Some of them were in a combat zone at the time of the survey and were unlikely to be ready to answer questions. Nevertheless, it is clear that our measurement is quite accurate in estimating the number of law enforcement officers in Russia.

Do Russians want to fight in the field instead of being ‘couch warriors’?

More than a quarter (26%) of men liable for military service said they were not ready for mobilization, and 3% had difficulty answering. One in eleven (9%) limited their willingness to serve their homeland to the territory of Russia, and 31% declared their readiness to serve wherever 'the commanders will send them'. That's about 9.6 million people. Of course, this is only declared willingness for obvious risks, as we know the discrepancy between declaration of intent and actual behavior differs several times even in innocuous consumer behavior. We do not yet pretend to estimate the volume of possible additions to the reserves of the active army. We can estimate the order of numbers. More accurately, our expertise allows us to estimate the impact of various factors on the (declared) willingness to take personal part in combat operations in Ukraine.

The numbers are consistent

On May 23-26, 2022 the Russian Field research group (RF) conducted a survey of the adult population of Russia with the same sample size, which had a significant bias (in particular, pensioners were surveyed significantly less, and residents of the central regions of the country were surveyed significantly less than their share in the general population). During the survey the researchers measured the will of the male population of the country to take part in combat on the territory of Ukraine. The researchers did not specify on whose side, but it can be assumed that the vast majority of respondents, when expressing willingness, had Russian troops in mind. There was also no adequate option for those respondents who either already serve or have served in Russian power units or private military companies. Of course, they may have a 'will to serve in Ukraine', but for a serviceman orders are more important than the will. Despite these shortcomings, the version of the question 'If you personally have the opportunity to take part in a military operation on the territory of Ukraine, will you take advantage of such an opportunity?' is a close analogue of the question from 'Practices'.

In the RF study, 31% of men aged 18-50 responded positively to the question about participation, which repeats the figure we received - 31%. Unfortunately, we are unable to estimate how servicemen and members of other security agencies responded (according to ExtremeScan, they represent approximately 5% of the number of men enlisted in the military). The unwillingness to go to the front was declared by 57% of conscripts in the Russian Field survey, while the figure was 61% in the ‘Practices’ project.

In the ‘Chronicles’ project (ExtremeScan aggregator) on May 15-17 measured a broader willingness: the respondent himself or his family members. The question was asked of all respondents.

Are you personally/your relatives ready or not ready to participate in the military operation in Ukraine?

45% of men aged 18-50 or their relatives are ready to take part in the 'military operation' in Ukraine. As we can see, even here, taking into account the wording, which assumes a wider coverage of observations (not only the respondent himself, but also his relatives), the share of those ready to go to the front is quite substantial and quite comparable with the figures in the 'Practices' and the RF survey. Сloseness of the results indicates reproducible and reliable data, which is good.

Thus, various measurements by different research groups have discovered a stated willingness to participate in hostilities of about 30% of Russian men liable for military service. In absolute numbers this is about 10 million men. Of course, not every man who has declared his decision to fight is really prepared for front-line life and the threat of being captured, wounded, or killed. There are serious requirements for the selection of reservists. Not everyone who wants to serve will be accepted into the army. https://sao.mos.ru/news/news/detail/10224964.html

Even if this willingness is exaggerated by an order, a million reservists ready to go to the front is a very large number, and this in itself eliminates the need to conduct mobilization in Russia publicly. It is enough to organize recruitment points for contract servicemen, to use personnel services of large state enterprises, especially those where significant staff reductions can take place, and those who are ready to serve will come on their own. Perhaps this circumstance explains the absence of a general mobilization announcement in Russia.

But before relying on such impressive numbers, we need to understand what factors facilitate or hinder voluntary mobilization.

The young don't want to go to war

It is clearly evident that the oldest generations of Russian men are most actively ready to take part in actions outside of Russia; only one in five young men between the ages of 18 and 30 (20%) agreed to go wherever their commanders send them. It is likely that young people in Russia have other strategies for their life paths, which for forty-year-olds are already exhausted and they find it more useful to serve on army teams for the tasks at hand. On the contrary, every third young Russian (31%) expressed his unwillingness to serve in the army, and another 12% agreed to serve only on Russian territory, i.e., outside the territory with immediate threat to their lives. A similar correlation was found by the research groups 'Chronicles' and Russian Field: the older the Russian is the greater his or her willingness to go to the front.

Table 2. Willingness to serve by age and income ('Practices', men of age 18-50, March 2022)
Table 2. Willingness to serve by age and income ('Practices', men of age 18-50, March 2022)

Will the volunteers come in a BMW?

It is clearly evident that the oldest generations of Russian men are most actively ready to take part in actions outside of Russia; only one in five young men between the ages of 18 and 30 (20%) agreed to go wherever their commanders send them. It is likely that young people in Russia have other strategies for their life paths, which for forty-year-olds are already exhausted and they find it more useful to serve on army teams for the tasks at hand. On the contrary, every third young Russian (31%) expressed his unwillingness to serve in the army, and another 12% agreed to serve only on Russian territory, i.e., outside the territory with immediate threat to their lives. A similar correlation was found by the research groups 'Chronicles' and Russian Field: the older the Russian is the greater his or her willingness to go to the front.

Table 3. Impact of age and income factors on willingness to participate in the military operation ('Chronicles', N=1600, May 2022)
Table 3. Impact of age and income factors on willingness to participate in the military operation ('Chronicles', N=1600, May 2022)
Table 3. Impact of age and income factors on willingness to participate in the military operation ('Chronicles', N=1600, May 2022)

We associate this dependence with the fact that for many years the source of reproduction of the wealthy class are officials of all levels, government workers, security forces of all possible formats, employees of companies contracting state organizations.

The military operation is where people are killed

The estimate of losses of Russian servicemen on the territory of Ukraine influences the willingness to go to the front in an expected and significant way. While 38% of those who trust the official information about less than 5,000 deaths given in March by the Ministry of Defense of Russia Federation are ready for mobilization, only 20% - almost twice as little - among those who believe that the reality is much more tragic are ready to participate (see Table 4 below).

Family contract

The presence of servicemen in the family has a significant effect on the willingness to go to the front for sure. In addition to those 13% of them who also serve, another 37% expressed such willingness. In families where no members of the law enforcement agencies 29% refused the prospect of participation in hostilities (see Table 4 below). The experience of military service by other family members, i.e. those in the closest social circle, stimulates a person to take part in hostilities personally: 'We do not abandon our people!' The more intensive propaganda that servicemen bring into the family circle also works here.

With bread and salt or with a Molotov cocktail?

Expectations of how the population of Ukraine will meet the Russian troops have a significant impact on the willingness to serve in these troops. Among those who believe that the Russians are welcomed there as liberators or at least neutrally, the share of those ready to become such a 'liberator' is 38-39%, while among those who are sure that the Ukrainians meet the troops as enemies, there are only 20% ‘liberators’ against 43% who do not want to serve (see Table 4 below).

Serving in a victorious army that moves unhindered through the territory of a 'brotherly country' and fighting while shedding blood are different stories.

Fast victorious or long viscous war

Estimates of the expected duration of the war have an equally significant effect on participation in potential mobilization. Approximately one-third (32%) of those who believe the war will last a few months are willing to serve outside of Russia. If the war drags on, 10% fewer would go to war. Obviously, those who are ready to participate expect a relatively short and victorious war, and the more pessimistic the assessment of the duration of the armed conflict, the lower the proportion who are ready to go to a foreign country with weapons in hand.

Table 4. Impact of age and income factors on willingness to participate in the military operation ('Chronicles', N=1600, May 2022)
Table 4. Impact of age and income factors on willingness to participate in the military operation ('Chronicles', N=1600, May 2022)

Informational mobilization

Attitudes toward potential mobilization are influenced by the preferred sources of information to which a person trusts. If among those who trust governmental TV channels the ratio of those who are ready to serve to those who are not ready to serve is 41% to 19%, then among those who do not trust governmental TV the proportion is the opposite: 17% to 43%.

If people manage to obtain information banned in the Russian Federation, however, their willingness to participate in hostilities decreases rapidly. Among those who do not know what a VPN is (software that allows bypassing the bans imposed by the Russian government), the ratio of those who are ready to go to war and those who refuse mobilization is almost 3 to 1 (39% vs. 14%). While among those who use VPN the ratio is 1 to 2 in the opposite direction (21% vs. 40%). A wider range of information causes evasion.

It is important to emphasize that employees in the Russian law enforcement agencies are particularly protected from the access to a broader range of information.

Table 5. Willingness to serve in the Russian Armed Forces by various channels of information ('Practices', N=1600, March 2022)
Table 5. Willingness to serve in the Russian Armed Forces by various channels of information ('Practices', N=1600, March 2022)

Perception of sanctions as an indicator of adequacy

The assessment of the consequences of the sanctions also significantly affects the willingness to go to a war zone. 34% of those respondents who believe that the main part of the consequences have already taken place and it will not get worse, are ready to go there. The number increases to 41% among those who did not see any sanction impact at all and foresee any future impact. Among those who have felt the impact of the sanctions, only 16-19% are ready to mobilize. As we can see, the higher the assessment of the effectiveness of the sanctions, the more realistic the perception of the situation and, accordingly, the lower the willingness of personal participation in military action in Ukraine.

Table 6.Willingness to serve in the Russian Armed Forces by evaluation of sanction impact ('Practices', N=1600, March 2022)
Table 6.Willingness to serve in the Russian Armed Forces by evaluation of sanction impact ('Practices', N=1600, March 2022)

The army is a friend of the unemployed

In the fifth wave of the 'Chronicle' the influence of objective characteristics of various Russian regions on the readiness of their populations to participate in combat operations was examined. The use of economic statistics and regression analysis showed that the most influential prerequisites for willingness to participate in 'special operations' are the level of unemployment in the region. The higher the unemployment rate in a region, the more likely its inhabitants/some of his/her relatives are willing to participate in the war. On the contrary, no influence of the indicators of the average per capita (median) income and economic solvency of the region, as well as the number of its inhabitants killed in the ongoing operation was detected.

* Data about level of unemployment, average income and economical state of regions was taken from official sources https://fedstat.ru/

Willingness to fight as a form of loyalty

The experience of analyzing a dozen waves of various independent surveys increasingly clearly leads us to the conclusion that there are many questions in the surveys that show us the loyalty syndrome. The intersection of groups of respondents who support the military operation, Putin, the war to the end, believe in victory and approve of the situation in the country is very high.

There is reason to argue that willingness to participate in the operation is another measure of this loyalty. The corresponding correlations are shown in the table.

Table 7. Impact of loyalty factor on willingness to participate in the military operation (‘Chronicles’, N=1600, May 2022)
Table 7. Impact of loyalty factor on willingness to participate in the military operation (‘Chronicles’, N=1600, May 2022)
Table 7. Impact of loyalty factor on willingness to participate in the military operation (‘Chronicles’, N=1600, May 2022)

If we look only at a group of male 35-54 year old - 'volunteers' - 96% of them believe in the victory of Russia, 93% believe that the country is moving in the right direction and 87% support the military operation (as opposed to 64% of the population at large). Why is there any reason to believe that such politicized expressions of willingness are grounds for doubting that such declarations will realize? Because loyalty is a virtual entity. The rest of the analysis in this release shows that the willingness to go to war is influenced by a multitude of facts.

An interesting comparison can be made. In Ukraine, 20% of respondents claim to have relatives/close friends in territorial defense, i.e. this estimate yields approximately 6 million. If each participant in the territorial defense is named (at most) by 20 people, then we get a maximum of 300,000 participants in the territorial defense. There are 110,000 registered people in territorial defense in reality (in general, there are about 1 million people fighting on the side of Ukraine), that is, we get an overestimate of the number of volunteers. And it is a fact, there were queues to enter the territorial defense, they are strictly filtered by health and military experience. In the case of the Russian assessment, we are dealing with a declaration of intent. That is, relative to the 10 million Russian men of conscription age, 'ready to participate in the military operation', we can talk about 500,000 potential volunteers. 70% of them (those who are 18-55 years old) or about 300-350 thousand are eligible candidates for service in the Russian army. This thought before taking into account dynamic changes in the factors influencing such willingness. The breaking of the information blockade, the prolongation of the war, the severity of the war, the weakening of the economy, sanctions, increased casualties in manpower, and isolation will all affect the whole 'bundle of loyalties', including the willingness to go to such a war.

Does war have a woman's face?

In the 'Chronicle' study, all male and female respondents were asked about their willingness or their relatives to go to war. Thirty percent of women said they or their relatives were ready to go to war. In general, they all have the same loyalty syndrome: they also support the military operation, believe in victory, and would not stop the military action.

Female 'volunteers' have their own characteristics. Women believe in victory even more than men (98%), are more confident that they know the goals of the operation, and for them television and conversations with close social contacts are more important as a source of information about the military operation. They are more hopeful about a stable economic situation.

Obviously, these 30% of women confirm the willingness to go to war not by their own but by their men, and this contributed its share to the answers to this question. But women themselves (en masse, at least) are not attracted to military action, and in answering this 'non-pragmatic' question, they once again confirm the synthonality of this question of general loyalty.

In the first 'military' survey 'Athena' (28.02.-01.03.22) we asked useful questions about having sons (their age) and servicemen in the family. This parameter worked in line with natural expectations. Having a son decreased support: 47% vs. 61% of those women who did not have a son. The table shows an obvious difference in support, depending on the age of sons.

Table 8. Influence of having sons and servicemen among relatives on support of military operation ('Athena', N=1600, March 2022)
Table 8. Influence of having sons and servicemen among relatives on support of military operation ('Athena', N=1600, March 2022)
Table 8. Influence of having sons and servicemen among relatives on support of military operation ('Athena', N=1600, March 2022)

But it also depends on the generation. The younger the sons, the younger the mothers, and here the generational factor is already at work. As we know, the younger a person is, the less he or she supports the operation in Ukraine. Still, not everything is so obvious. Why didn't the mothers/sisters of men of conscription age 18-27 give the least support? Why didn't the presence of enlisted men in the family cause alarm? Probably the hypothesis of an 'army' informational influence on family attitudes has merit.

Table 9. Gender differences in emotions, personal influence on events, attitudes toward surrender ('Chronicles', N=1600, May 2022)
Table 9. Gender differences in emotions, personal influence on events, attitudes toward surrender ('Chronicles', N=1600, May 2022)
Table 9. Gender differences in emotions, personal influence on events, attitudes toward surrender ('Chronicles', N=1600, May 2022)

Among women there are fewer who refuse to sympathize with Ukrainians, they are concerned about the events in Ukraine, half of them are anxious and fearful about the war, they feel helpless more than men, and yet they are not an anti-war, but not even a noticeable pacifist force. And a third state the willingness of their men to take part in hostilities. At the same time, they do not even argue in the family (only 24%, as among all others).

In general, women are surprisingly similar to men on all questions. Their assessments may be a little softer, and they are radically different in the proportion who find it difficult to answer. For example, 31% of young men 18-34 years old avoid answering the question about support of military operation, among women there are 46% of such respondents. Women are obviously more afraid to express their point of view, which differs from the official one. But this may be due not only to fear, but also to greater responsibility for their loved ones. We need to study further.

Who is already at war

To understand mobilization potential, it is important to look at those who are already involved in the 'military operation'.

Did any of your relatives take part/participate in the military operation in Ukraine (whether at the front or at the rear), or was no one involved/participated?

15% of Russians responded that at least one of their relatives participated/participated in the 'military operation' in Ukraine (at the front or at the rear). This question does not measure the size of the active army, but the proportion of those who take part in the operation on the territory of Ukraine and its support. Obviously, one participant in combat (or rear) operations may have several acquaintances who know about it, so we cannot directly extrapolate shares to the number of people.

The strongest predictor, a prerequisite for a positive answer to this question is also the level of unemployment in the region. The higher the level of unemployment, the more likely that someone close to the respondent is already involved in the war. The same is true for regions with heavy losses of servicemen - Republic of Buryatia, Republic of Dagestan, Volgograd Region, Chelyabinsk Region, Krasnodar Territory, Republic of Bashkortostan, Orenburg Region, Stavropol Region - in which respondents are more likely to say that their relatives are involved in the war. The income, as well as the economic success of the region, does not influence the participation of its residents in hostilities.

* Data from the BBC Russian Service, based on reports by heads of Russian regions and publications of local media, https://www.bbc.com/russian/features-61638530

Geography of participation in the operation

Residency of respondents in areas bordering Ukraine does not explain the difference between two groups: those who have relatives at war and those who haven’t. From these regions they go to war no more often than from any other. As for the type of settlement, it appears that from towns people go to war less frequently than from villages.

Media of the military operation

Men who follow events on Rutube are also more likely to respond that they have someone at war than men who do not follow events on Rutube. Since Rutube posts videos of Russian war correspondents close to the army, perhaps this channel is particularly relevant for finding out about relatives, following the movements of their units, etc.

Interestingly, other sources of information - traditional media (television, radio, newspapers), and the Internet (youtube, telegram, social networks, messengers) - does not differentiate between respondents who have someone at war or not. This is probably due to the fact that the 'parade'-official and, on the contrary, opposition-independent channels do not show what is emotionally the most important thing for people - they are looking for traces of their military relatives. In the mainstream media, they cannot find out anything about the likely location and fate of their loved ones.

It is interesting how the actual involvement of family members in the war affects the attitude.

Family solidarity

The participation of family members in hostilities has little effect on any parameters. We found a correlation with the willingness to co-participate: 59% will go to war if close ones are already at war, while among those who have no participants on the war fields there are 39% - almost half as many. If relatives are at war, 'our boys are shedding blood', it means they should go to the end - 75% would not stop the operation, and if there are no family members at war 63% would not stop the operation.

Conclusions

Age of volunteers

In case of an explicit or implicit conscription scenario, the new contingent would be substantially older than the forces currently engaged in combat, since the willingness to fight is characteristic of older ages.

Welfare on top

The willingness to participate in the special operation is more actively expressed by richer groups of Russians.

Even if this is only verbal willingness, it is likely that these groups could be a significant source of aid to Russian military formations. This could be the target audience for the issuance of state army bonds.

If fast - yes. If long, not so sure

The longer the war turns out to be, the higher the estimate of its victims, the less intention to take part in it personally. It can be assumed that an increase of losts, and the continuation of hostilities will reduce the level of even the declared intention to take part in them.

The talk show will call out

An important incentive for personal participation is the information disseminated by the governmental media, primarily television channels. If a person breaks through the information isolation at least on the Internet (e.g., through the use of a VPN), his attitude toward personal participation changes significantly.

More awareness of the effect of sanctions - less fervor to fight

The high assessment of the effectiveness of sanctions imposed by European countries and the US against Russia significantly reduces optimism and confidence in the need for personal involvement in military action in Ukraine.

Unemployment is fodder for war

Participation in military actions for some part of the population can be a solution to the problem of unemployment. A similar phenomenon was observed in 2014-2015. The reality of this factor was confirmed by regional differences. The level of unemployment in a region significantly affects the willingness of its residents to go to the front with weapons in their hands: the more unemployed the region is, the higher such willingness is.

The level of unemployment in a region also has an impact on the real participation of its residents in hostilities. The average (median) per capita income, as well as the general economic success of the region, have no such influence.

And now for the experimental part of our release. It stems from the collective nature of our publication. The concept of ExtremeScan as a collaboration of independent researchers-analysts is being implemented. The best manifestation of collaboration is a willingness to accept different points of view. The authors' opinions in the main conclusion of our search are divided. We decided to publish two points of view and let our readers judge.

Main conclusions

Version #1 One-third of Russian men aged 18-50 expressed their verbal willingness to take part in combat operations on the territory of Ukraine on the side of Russia. Even if we assume that only one tenth of this group is actually ready and fit for such service, it constitutes a voluntary mobilization resource of 1 million men.

This allows the Russian authorities to conduct manpower replenishment operations without a publicly announced general mobilization, combining talk shows with recruitment mailings indicating where and when to arrive at the contract recruitment point.

Version # 2

The declaration of willingness to participate in the special operation is not so much a basis for predicting a volunteer movement as a reflection of general loyalty to the authorities, Putin, and the operation itself, shaped by long-standing and currently relevant propaganda.

The real willingness to go to war can only in a small part be the result of ideological convictions. Its scale should be predicted on the basis of personal socioeconomic circumstances, the degree of marginalization, the loss of jobs, the loss of loved ones in the war.


Sources:

Project ‘Athena’

Project 'Practices'

Project 'Chronicles'

Russian Field Project