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What really differentiates Russia's twice-yearly conscription cycle from the mobilization drive? On one end, conscripts seem to not go to Ukraine much these days, whereas a whole lot of not always willing or capable older Russian males are sent there.

In a Western country running conscription, conscripts do get sent to the front during a national emergency. That is, after all, the whole point of conscription.

Here's the lay of the land as I think I understand it:

  • Early in the war reports emerged of conscripts fighting in Ukraine. This was acknowledged as a mistake - Russia's law stipulates their use abroad only during an official state of war - and it was promised to be rectified. They mostly seem to have been kept out since.

  • Conscripts can be "persuaded" to sign contracts with the Russian MoD. That makes it OK to send them to the "special military operation". But until they do, see the point above.

  • Only conscripts are off-limit to mobilization-to-Ukraine, so it almost seems to me that, the day they get discharged after fulfilling their one-year draft obligation, they can literally be picked up again, mobilized, and carted off to the front, because they are now not protected by their conscription status

  • Due to Donetsk/Luhansk now being officially claimed to be part of Russia since their annexation referendum, it seems like they could be sent to defend Russia, on its supposed national territory, but as far as I know, that is not taking place.

  • Except for it not being conscription, the special mobilization recruits are trained at the same locations, for a shorter period. However, they can be vastly older than conscripts.

Again, this whole setup, with two distinct sets of mandatory, coercive, military call-up mechanisms during wartime seems odd from a Western conscription perspective. This question is asking about the legal/status differences between the conscripts and non-conscripts mobilized Russian (i.e. not Luhansk/DNR) personnel and why it seems politically acceptable to send one, but not the other, to engage in deadly combat.

Conscription:

Conscription in Russia (Russian: всеобщая воинская обязанность, romanized: vseobshchaya voinskaya obyazannost, translated as "universal military obligation" or "liability for military service") is a 12-month draft, which is mandatory for all male citizens who are between 18 and 30 years old, with a number of exceptions.1 Avoiding the draft is a felony under Russian criminal code and is punishable by up to 18 months of imprisonment.[2] Conscripts are generally prohibited from being deployed abroad.[3]

2022 Russian mobilization

p.s. Yes, I know what reservists are and their use in a Western war context. An answer is expected to go deeper than just the terminology as in: "mobilization means reservists, conscription means current draftees".

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    I think that you have exhaustively answered your own question. That's mostly it.
    – alamar
    Aug 9, 2023 at 22:58
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    @alamar But then why be so coy about sending conscripts to the front? If anything, I would expect most Western countries to be more nervous about calling in reservists - people in the draft hope they don't get whacked in the head by a war during their time, but once they're out, they expect to be left alone, having done their bit. I think most Western countries would a) resolve military emergencies using purely their enlisted forces b) resort to conscripts and c) as a last resort, call in the reserves, who have moved on and have obligations. So RU's approach seems backwards. Aug 10, 2023 at 2:08
  • @Italian, I believe this is mostly for historic reasons. For a long time until fairly recently, serving in the army (as a conscript) was hard and very unpopular. For many boys, it was the only reason to go to a university, as it was one of the legal ways to delay or even dodge the draft. To improve this situation, two strategies were employed: a) gradual move to professional/contract army and b) improving conditions of the conscripts, including shortening the term and promising not to deploy them to fight abroad. Also, they are mostly 18 yo boys, which makes it more socially sensitive.
    – Zeus
    Aug 10, 2023 at 2:48
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    The "chechen trauma" is probably the reason why conscripts are not sent in the was zone. They still get to be on the front, but on the pre-2014 side of it, such as Bryansk and Belgorod regions.
    – alamar
    Aug 10, 2023 at 8:52
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    The purpose of peacetime conscription (in countries with professional armies) is to generate and maintain a large pool of reservists, so the regular army can be quickly expanded when needed. This is rather expensive though, so there are a couple of approaches to make it cheaper: 1) Don't actually call them up, and hope you'll have enough time to train them when needed. (many western nations) 2) Don't actually pay or train them. (Russia, it seems) 3) Use them as un(der)paid labor for unrelated things. (Eritrea, North Korea) None of these actually generate trained reservists though.
    – AI0867
    Aug 10, 2023 at 10:48

2 Answers 2

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The difference is, in a way, formal, and not much more can be said.

  1. Conscription is a regular exercise by the state. It always existed, it happens in war and peace time. It is considered an obligation of pretty much every male of a certain age, and thus there is not much compensation for conscripts in terms of rights and pay. (But of course, they are (supposed to be) provided with everything during their service).

Once discharged from their service, former conscripts become reservists, having acquired certain military qualification. There are ways to become a reservist without being conscripted: for example, by acquiring a military qualification at a university.

  1. In normal times, reservists can be called up for refresher training (up to 2 months at a time, but usually around 2-4 weeks) every few years. In practice, this is not very regular and is not bound to happen to every reservist (unlike, say, the Israeli army).

  2. Reservists can sign a contract and become part of the regular professional army. In this case they are paid a wage (and bonuses for actual fighting). Conscripts, after a certain time in service, also can sign a contract. The constraints on this time and age have recently been reduced to practically nothing in order to broaden the pool of potential contractors.

    Conscripts often experience significant pressure to sign contracts. For many, it made sense in "normal" times: you sign a contract and get paid (and have better conditions), or you don't and do the same (almost) for free. The only "small" caveat is that now they can legally be sent to fight abroad. Also, although a contract usually lasts longer than the conscription term, there is now a real threat that yesterday's conscripts will be immediately mobilized after serving their term, so "early exit" is not a certainty.

  3. Formally, mobilization of reservists can be called at any time. But except in the official state of war, reservists must be mobilized according to their acquired military qualification and rank. (There are numerous reports that this is not happening in practice, in the current situation). This is always a lottery, as the pool of reservist is a significant chunk of male population of Russia.

  4. Formally, mobilized reservists are closer to conscripts than to contractors, except that, as you know, they can be sent to fight abroad. They enjoy some rights (like keeping their workplace for the duration of service), but it's still considered their duty and is not supposed to be paid: only compensated. However, to sweeten the pill with highly unpopular mobilization in the current situation, they were promised to be paid "like contractors" and lots of non-monetary bonuses. But this is specifics of today, not the general rule. (That said, the situation is unprecedented as this is the first mobilization since WWII, to speak about "general rules").

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One important difference is that mobilized seem to be paid a wage of 2000$/mo (with current exchange rate, was more like 3k$/mo when it started), even if they reside in the training camps and not anywhere near the front(?). That's a lot of money in Russia, especially outside Moscow.

Whereas conscripts are paid an allowance of around $30/mo (no, that's not a joke). Even if they are allocated to the hot spots such as Shebekino (Belgorod region), where there are artillery duels and even skirmishes, they don't get anything to compensate them for it and they're usually not even getting the recognition as "participant in military action".

Source

The Russian Ministry of Defense published clarifications on monetary allowances and other payments to those mobilized, from which it follows that an ordinary rifleman will receive a minimum of 195 thousand rubles, a platoon commander - about 225 thousand, and a battalion commander - about 243 thousand

Currency conversion

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  • Do you have a source for these numbers? I'm actually more surprised by the 2k$/mo. That comes to an awful lot of money for the russian state seeing the number of involved soldiers and the difference to more typical russian salaries.
    – quarague
    Aug 10, 2023 at 7:26
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    @quarague Added sources. This was in place from the beginning of war and to my knowledge, Ukraine has largely mirrored this approach to soldier wages.
    – alamar
    Aug 10, 2023 at 8:48
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    YouTube Battle Order - Examining UA Mech Infantry Doctrine pay goes up to $2700/mo but that is highly dependent on bonuses for time spent in combat ops. That said, do the Russian contract soldiers always get paid this regularly? ISW is always talking up news about relatives that are complaining that volunteer bataillon X is not getting their promised pay and benefits. IIRC as a French draftee in Germany in late 80s I was getting FF450/mo and no, that was not a joke either, it was even a bonus of about 50% over station in France. Conscripts are cheap. Aug 10, 2023 at 21:39
  • I believe they do get paid regularly, not seeing any signs of systemic failure to pay what they're due. All kinds of bonuses that were supposed to be there are the hell to claw out, so I have heard.
    – alamar
    Aug 11, 2023 at 20:57

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