5 Answers 5


I think this is more of an English language SE question than a politics one.

not openly avowed or declared —often used in combination


This is a perfectly compositional term (i.e. can easily be understood from knowing what its constituent parts mean): crypto-mobilization is mobilization that is not openly avowed or declared. It probably would be clearer to say "covert mobilization", however.


It seems to be a neologism applied to Russia's current efforts to boost recruitment, which (allegedly) involves promising prisoners amnesty, recruiting various contactors that reportedly don't get counted as regular soldiers and similar.

To be clear, most stories that talk about these practices don't apply/use the "crypto-" term. I'm just doing my best to guess what ISW may be talking about.

And as explained more recently

On September 15, Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-appointed strongman leader of the North Caucasus region of Chechnya, called on the heads of all 83 Russian regions to carry out “self-mobilizations” at the regional level and send at least 1,000 “volunteers” to the war “without waiting for the Kremlin to announce a military mobilization.” [...]

Within two days of Kadyrov’s message, at least four other Russian regional leaders endorsed the idea. One of them was the head of the mid-Volga Republic of Mari El, Yury Zaitsev. Mari El is one of Russia’s poorest regions and has already sent three battalions of volunteers to Ukraine. [...]

However, under Russian law, the idea of regions carrying out their own individual military mobilizations is clearly illegal, said Sergei Krivenko, the head of the Citizen.Army.Law nongovernmental aid organization.

“Russia, of course, has a federative structure,” he told Current Time, the Russian-language network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA. “But all matters of security and the formation and activity of the armed forces are exclusive functions of the central government.”

“Any mobilization or the formation of separate military units outside the Defense Ministry or the National Guard should be impossible and illegal,” he added. “But, of course, it is possible, but it is illegal.”

The term used by Kadyrov was "самомобилизация", which seems to be the recycling of an old Soviet term (that I could no tell you exactly in what contexts it was used originally).

On the other hand, the crypto- (i.e. hidden) prefix applied to concepts in the Soviet space or its nearby areas does have a bit of British tradition.

In 1947, Winston Churchill described a crypto-communist as, "one who has not the moral courage to explain the destination for which he is making".

So, I'm guessing the ISW is more likely inspired by such words when it comes to coining new terms. And as discovered in convert's answer, ISW used this term before in July as "crypto-mobilization of the Russian economy" to refer to some laws that "would introduce “special measures in the economic sphere” obliging Russian businesses (regardless of ownership) to supply Russian special military and counterterrorist operations." So, I'm guessing that having already coined that crypto-mobilization term, they used it again in September for troops (in the OP's quotes), rather than use the more direct translations of Kadyrov's preferred term.

  • 1
    Russian term is "скрытая мобилизация" or covert mobilization, but I don't think it's accurate. Mobilization is supposed to be involuntary and operates on totally different set of incentives.
    – alamar
    Commented Sep 18, 2022 at 8:48
  • 1
    @alamar: it appears the term Kadyrov used was "Самомобилизация" which is literally self-mobilization, although it definitely sounds strange (in English), although it appears to be recycling of a Soviet term. Commented Sep 18, 2022 at 9:15
  • WRT "offered large sums of money and other incentives that as a rule are never paid out". I've not heard of a systemic failure of MoD or Wagner to pay up. They way this is mentioned matter-of-factly shows heavy bias.
    – alamar
    Commented Sep 18, 2022 at 9:31
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    @alamar the quote-in-quote claiming that is from "Sergei Krivenko, the head of the Citizen.Army.Law nongovernmental aid organization". IDK how reliable he is. As Wagner doesn't officially exist, it's hard to check their payrolls, isn't it? Anyhow, there are some older stories that they had pay issue in Syria, at least in terms of delays fontanka.ru/2017/08/18/075 Commented Sep 18, 2022 at 10:02
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    @Trilarion: actually, the stories are the families are payed nothing if the fighter dies. Paymed is apparently at the end of the contract. Commented Sep 18, 2022 at 10:22

The term seems to be invented and used only by ISW. It seem to be refering to encryption of the fact of mobilzation which is done covertly as described in this article.

Also as writen in wikipedia crypto translated from Ancient Greek means "hidden, secret". So if we translate it this way it means secret or hidden mobilization.

  • 1
    That seem to be an older article (from July) that talks about "economic crypto-mobilization". And topic there are laws that would "force businesses to fulfill government orders for “counter-terrorism and other operations” outside of Russia." Apparently ISW loves their crypto- term so much, they use it with multiple meanings. OTOH the piece that the OP linked is talking about crypto-mobilization to "generate forces", which most likely is about troops. Commented Sep 18, 2022 at 11:15
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    I don't think that the term encryption is correct here. You wrote hidden at the end of the answer, that is better, I would just stick to that.
    – FluidCode
    Commented Sep 18, 2022 at 11:28
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    @convert I am probably a bit nit picking, but I think that covert or obfuscation would give better the idea.
    – FluidCode
    Commented Sep 18, 2022 at 11:59
  • 5
    @convert "crypto" here is used in the sense of "cryptic", not "encrypted" – which (in English) mean very different things! They're related only as far as sharing a root, i.e. they were once similar enough to the root concept for their words to be based on it.
    – wizzwizz4
    Commented Sep 18, 2022 at 14:34
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    So, crypto- as in cryptozoology rather than crytocurrency?
    – user14720
    Commented Sep 18, 2022 at 15:34

It does seem to be an invented term, by that specific think tank. Their first use seems to have July 1st, but concerned economic measures:

The Kremlin is likely setting conditions for crypto-mobilization of the Russian economy in preparation for a protracted war in Ukraine. The Kremlin proposed an amendment to federal laws on Russian Armed Forces supply matters to the Russian State Duma on June 30, that would introduce “special measures in the economic sphere” obliging Russian businesses (regardless of ownership) to supply Russian special military and counterterrorist operations.[

There is a large sense of "crypto" usual meaning that applies. From Merriam-Webster:

not openly avowed or declared —often used in combination

However, if one digs behind that ISW's particular usage of the term since then, you might consider "crypto" to be also a synonym for "unorthodox", "quasi-" or "pseudo-", rather than just "hidden".

In the same way that "cryptozoology" - the branch of "zoology" looking into Yetis, Loch Ness, Bigfoot etc... denotes a quack science without any scientific merit.

  • Mobilization can't be hidden. There are posters and adverts all over Russia asking people to join the "special military operation". The one exception is apparently when, 4-6 weeks back, Moscow/St. Petersburg area authorities were asked to tone it down and not alarm the locals.

  • ISW's paragraphs typically immediately segue into statements expressing doubt as to any meaningful military recruitment or war-fighting ability resulting from those efforts. That is what "crypto" seems mostly meant to be referring to: it's not a normal mobilization/recruitment effort.

  • Each time ISW takes great pleasure * in reminding their readers, at length, of the deficiencies that any normal military recruiters would see as disqualifying:

    • age is elastic, up to late 50s, 60.
    • schooling requirements are down to middle grades. What's that, leaving school at 14-16 year old?
    • by now they are recruiting common law criminals incarcerated for violent crimes.
    • recruitment volume, per region, seems to be often in the low double digits.

If all ISW was looking for was a dispassionate qualifier, undeclared mobilization, hidden mobilization, along with other, more common, words having just as good or a closer fit than crypto would fit the bill quite well. The repeated use of crypto seems intended pejoratively, for its connotation of quackery, duplicity and incompetence.

* Might as well admit it, I read those descriptions with equal pleasure.

  • To set the record straight, pre-Cambrian times are known as a cryptozoic eon (as opposed to phanerozoic which came after), and cryptozoology - which studies pre-Cambrian forms of life - is a respectable branch of geology.
    – user58697
    Commented Sep 25, 2022 at 5:27

It probably refers to covert as opposed to overt mobilisation so that the enemy cannot gauge the combatant readiness etc. Here crypto is a synonym for covert.

One site that I looked like (and from @JJJ's edit, looks as though copied from a previous assessment by the Institute for the Study of War) offers the following as an example:

The Kremlin is likely setting conditions for crypto-mobilisation of the Russian economy in preparation for a protracted war in Ukraine.

And further explained the crypto or covert mobilisation as follows:

The Kremlin proposed an amendment to federal laws on Russian Armed Forces supply matters to the Russian State Duma on June 30, that would introduce "special measures in the economic sphere" obliging Russian businesses ... to supply Russian special military forces and counter-terrorist forces.

This doesn't sound like 'covert' mobilisation. It looks like overt mobilisation. Bit hey, I'm going by what the text says.


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