Russia says it has finished calling up hundreds of thousands of reservists to fight in Ukraine with more than one-quarter already deployed to the battlefield.
The announcement on Friday appears to bring to a close a divisive mobilisation drive – Russia’s first since World War II – which led to tens of thousands of men fleeing the country and gave rise to the first sustained public protests against the war.
“The task set by you of [mobilising] 300,000 people has been completed,” Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu told President Vladimir Putin at a televised meeting in the Kremlin. “No further measures are planned.”
He said 82,000 soldiers had been sent to the combat zone and the rest were in training.
Putin thanked the reservists “for their dedication to duty, for their patriotism, for their firm determination to defend our country, to defend Russia, which means their home, their family, our citizens, our people”.
‘So brutally used’
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Friday expressed doubt about Russia’s declaration that its draft was complete, saying the poor performance of Moscow’s forces meant more men could be needed.
“We have reports the enemy has completed its mobilisation as if there is no longer a need to send new waves of Russian citizens to the front,” Zelenskyy said in a video address. “We feel very differently on the front lines.”
“Even though Russia is trying to increase the pressure on our positions by using conscripts, they are so poorly prepared and equipped, so brutally used by their command, that it allows us to presume that very soon Russia may need a new wave of people to send to the war,” Zelenskyy said.
Putin and Shoigu acknowledged “problems” in the early days of the call-up. Shoigu said initial issues in supplying newly mobilised troops had since been resolved. Putin said mistakes had probably been inevitable as Russia had not carried out a mobilisation for such a long time but that lessons had been learned.
The “partial mobilisation”, which Putin ordered last month after his forces suffered major setbacks on the battlefield, was the first time most Russians faced a direct personal impact from the “special military operation” launched in Ukraine in February.
More than 2,000 people were arrested in anti-mobilisation protests, notably in parts of the country populated by ethnic minorities who complained they were being disproportionately targeted in the call-up.
Tens of thousands of Russian men are believed to have fled the country to avoid being forced to fight, many to neighbouring former Soviet republics.
Analysts have said the call-up could help ease Moscow’s shortages of manpower along the 1,000km (600-mile) front line, but the military value of the draft will depend on whether Moscow can properly equip and train the reservists.
One of the war’s most consequential battles is now looming in the south as Ukrainian forces have advanced this month towards Kherson, the biggest city Russia has captured intact since the invasion in February.
The Ukrainian advance appears to have slowed in recent days, however, with Kyiv blaming poor weather and tough terrain.
As Ukrainian troops prepare for the Kherson battle, they are now largely in control of a key road that links two Russian-occupied districts in the east of the country, Kyiv officials said on Friday.
Ukrainian forces are now slowly pushing their way east into the Luhansk region and aim to seize the Russian-occupied towns of Svatove and Kreminna, they said.
“The road from Svatove to Kreminna is practically under the control of the armed forces of Ukraine,” Serhiy Gaidai, governor of the Luhansk region, said on national television. “Our soldiers are advancing daily.”
A Russian-backed separatist official on Wednesday reported heavy fighting in the Kreminna and Svatove districts, which have been on the front line since Ukrainian forces routed Russian troops from the neighbouring Kharkiv region in September.