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Window on Eurasia — New Series: Moscow Can’t Mobilize More Men for Putin’s War without Closing the Borders, Inozemtsev Says

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Paul Goble

            Staunton, Oct. 31 – If the Kremlin really plans to mobilize a million or more additional men to serve in Ukraine, Vladislav Inozemtsev says, it won’t be able to do so unless it closes the borders. Otherwise, “the next wave of flight will be so large that the country’s economy which isn’t coping well with the current wave will simply go into free fall.”

            Between 1992 and 2021, some eight million Russians left their homeland to live abroad, not only transforming that nation into “one of the most globalized peoples” but also make the ability to leave if one is unhappy with conditions or policies something Russians have come to take for granted, the Russian commentator says (ridl.io/ru/zakroet-li-rossiya-granitsy/).

            This year alone, almost one million have left first after Putin launched his expanded invasion of Ukraine and then after he declared a partial mobilization. To slow that, the Russian government has already introduced restrictions on departures by those subject to the draft or mobilization; but more are likely if Putin hopes to mobilize significantly more people.

            The departure of Russians this year has already had a negative impact on the Russian economy, Inozemtsev says; the departure of even more could prove disastrous because the country’s economy is not prepared for that. Indeed, taking more men might not even be possible given economic constraints and demography.

            Consequently, Moscow is likely to introduce new restrictions soon, the economist says. It may “simply prohibit free exit from the country by introducing exit visas.” It has the structures to do that but many will be furious because they will see it as a major step toward “a complete return to the days of communism” – and “many millions [more] will seek to leave.

            An alternative approach, Inozemtsev continues, would be to issue “’a new edition’” of Putin’s ‘social contract.’” Russians would be exempt from being mobilized but only if they gave up their ability to travel approach. The deal would be this: “If you want to be ensured against conscription, give up your freedom of movement and thus serve on an alternative front.”

            Rumors are already swirling that the Kremlin will take one of these steps soon, but even it does, the commentator continues, that move would not threaten the country’s political stability. The reason for that is simple: Unlike at the end of Soviet times, the Russian population now “views the West as an enemy rather than a friend and a role model.”

            Moreover, he continues, “for many years, the authorities have been ‘tightening the screws rather than loosening control.” As a result, for most Russians, those who leave are viewed as traitors rather than dissidents who deserve to be listened to. The Kremlin knows this and so will likely move with confidence.

            According to Inozemtsev, there was “a window of opportunity” for popular anger right after the February 24th announcement or the September declaration of partial mobilization. But it closed with Russians responding to what was happening not collectively but individually, “trying to save themselves rather than the country.”

            Closing the borders won’t change that anytime soon, Inozemtsev concludes.

Window on Eurasia — New Series

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