The Kremlin has ordered a “volunteer mobilisation” of up to 34,000 soldiers by the end of next month to patch up its battered forces in Ukraine, analysts have said.
The recruitment drive is part of a push to shift Russians on to a war footing without declaring full mobilisation, a move that Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, has decided is politically too risky.
Mr Putin this week also signed into law a parliamentary bill that tightens rules for Russians working as “foreign agents”, mainly journalists and people who are linked to Western NGOs or take funding from the West. They are watched closely and their activities, access and travel are restricted.
There are 85 federal areas in Russia, including Crimea and Sevastopol, which were annexed from Ukraine in 2014, and each one has been tasked with recruiting a volunteer battalion of 400 men, the Washington-based think tank Institute for the Study of War reported.
Some of these units were made up of former soldiers now in their 50s and 60s. Russian state TV showed a unit of grey-haired men wearing combat fatigues and helmets practising their rifle shooting.
Russia has suffered at least 20,000 casualties in nearly five months of tough fighting in Ukraine, more than the Soviet Union suffered in 10 years of war in Afghanistan in the Eighties.
A disproportionate number of the casualties have been from ethnic minorities living on the fringe of Russia.
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