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Ideas

To The Slaughter: Why Putin Can Count On So Many Russians Mobilizing For Their Death

Ever since Russia announced a “partial mobilization” of hundreds of thousands of new recruits, we’ve seen plenty of coverage of those evading the draft. But the real story is how many untrained and under-equipped citizens will blindly follow the Kremlin’s orders.

Mobilized men say goodbye to their families​ at a station in Moscow

Mobilized men say goodbye to their families at a station in Moscow

Anna Akage

-Analysis-

From the first days of mobilization in Russia, we have followed reports of the thousands of Russian men of conscription age rushing abroad to flee the draft: buying a one-way plane ticket, driving to the border, even trekking by foot to the safety of a neighboring country.

But this stream of thousands are negligible in the ocean of a nation of 140 million. What we haven’t read about this past week are the masses obediently receiving their summons and marching down to distribution centers.

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Some are already now sleeping on a bare floor or in the forest in a tent, waiting to be sent to a war zone with little or no training, equipment or supplies. These tens and soon hundreds of thousands will head to parts southward and westward as part of a senseless and flailing attempt to try to hold back the Ukrainian counter-offensive.

They are, in other words, marching off to the slaughter. And they know it well.


Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the exiled former Russian oligarch who was jailed for a decade by Putin, noted this week how hard it was to comprehend so many young people choosing possible death for an uninspiring war. "Apparently the habit is strong enough," he said. "It's time to stop hoping this government can be removed without violence ... (But) if most people, instead of going to the recruiting stations would agree to force the authorities to bring criminal cases … this government wouldn't have the power to put everyone in jail."

Why so few resist

Meanwhile, Russian independent media have published multiple articles and videos with appeals to the male population of Russia to refuse to go to the military registration and enlistment offices: run, hide, don't go to the front!

So why do so few resist? Why are arrests, fines, and dismissals more frightening than death? Lev Gudkov, scientific director of the Russian sociological center Levada, explains that Russians have developed a strong association with the state due to the experience of living so long under an authoritarian regime.

This is Stockholm syndrome at scale, what makes Russians subservient to their ruler. And as history shows, only the death of one of the two parties — the leader or society — can break the cycle in such a relationship.

"The reaction of Russians is a habitual behavior toward the state, a feeling of helplessness,” Gudkov explains. “It is also an identification with the state. It is considered impossible to oppose the state; this creates a powerful internal conflict that causes people to behave like the doomed, convincing themselves that this is important, that this is necessary, repeating all the clichés that propaganda gives to do your duty for the state, go defend your own in the Donbas."

Conscripts in a bus at a recruitment center leaving the city of Kineshma for war

Conscripts in a bus at a recruitment center leaving the city of Kineshma for war

Vladimir Smirnov/TASS via ZUMA

Russia orphaned by Soviet collapse

For 70 years, Russia was the heart and brain of the USSR. When the republics gained independence in 1991, each returned to its history, language, and culture and chose its new center and new leaders.

Russia had no such opportunity. Its language, culture, and center were one and the same with the USSR. For the republics, the union's collapse was freedom; for Russia, it was tragedy.

This is Stockholm syndrome at scale.

Vladimir Putin sees it exactly that way: His is the last generation with memories of a grand nation, feared and respected by all.

For 70 years, Russians lived in a totalitarian regime. It was replaced by a dashing but short decade of the 1990s, riding on lawlessness and chaos. Then suddenly, without giving Russians any time to absorb the collapse of the empire, a new leader came onto the scene, appearing at first to be both loyal and democratic. Quickly, though, he began to morph into the dictator Russians are used to.

Death changes all

Unlike many dictatorships of the 20th century, the Soviet Union did not know the overthrow of its leaders, the last revolution that blew the head off the ruler was back in 1917.

Russia's current leader is no fool. He knows full well that his nation is made up of a docile mass of subjects who have long since forgotten how to fight for their rights — used to living in poverty, giving their last penny to the state, entranced by those who run the government. Having spent the last 22 years soaking up television propaganda about the glory of their homeland, few refuse to accept the call to head to the trenches. It’s an order to follow, without thinking about one’s fate.

This is both the means and ends of the cult of Putin, the embodiment of the nation as the effacement of individual free will.

Yet the formula risks unraveling with the launch of an all-out war like we’ve seen Russia carrying out in Ukraine — and finally openly declaring with the mobilization of new conscripts. For war brings death, and death leaves survivors, whose vacuum among the populace no propaganda can cover.

How many deaths will it take, we cannot know. It could be one at the top, or tens of thousands more at the front.


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Society

Single Parents In Portugal Turn "It Takes A Village" Into A Practical Reality

The death of a young child left alone at home while his single mother was out shocked a community. Now, single parents have banded together to offer support to each other. And they're succeeding in the face of overwhelming challenges.

Single Parents In Portugal Turn "It Takes A Village" Into A Practical Reality

Women from the association Jangada D'Emoções, which started Colo100Horas

Maíra Streit

SINTRA — The large and curious eyes of Gurnaaz Kaur reveal her desire to understand the world.

This four-year-old Indian girl doesn’t speak Portuguese yet. A few months have passed since she left her country on the family adventure across the European continent. She uses a few gestures to try to express herself and greets people with a “bom dia” (good morning), one of the few expressions he has learned.

Nahary Conniott, 8, is also looking for ways to interact. From Angola and on the autism spectrum disorder, she has already experienced difficult situations and was asked to leave the private school she attended. In the other schools in which the mother enrolled her, the refusal was always justified by the lack of vacancies.

Children with such different paths found the support they deserved in the Colo100Horas project. Started in 2021, it is a self-organized network of women who came together to help immigrants with their immense daily challenges in Sintra, in western Portugal.

The long list of problems meant they banded together to look for a solution: the strenuous routine of caring for children (still imposed in most homes as the responsibility of women), low salaries, the overcrowding of daycare centers, excessive work and the difficulty with shift schedules, which is common in jobs in the catering and cleaning industries.

A tragic case that occurred recently in the neighborhood that drew attention to the need for greater support for families: a six-year-old boy died after falling from the ninth floor of the building where he lived. He was at home with only his two little brothers, while his mother had left to go to the market, a few meters away.

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