In Moscow, Putin’s ‘invisible war’ is now impossible to hide

Russian social media soon coined the term “mogilizatsita” for Putin’s appeal, a mash-up of the Russian word mogila, or grave, and mobilization.

Unusually long lines to leave the country were reported Wednesday and Thursday mornings at once-sleepy border crossings, including those with Mongolia and Kazakhstan to the east and Georgia to the south, where hundreds of cars were stuck in an overnight massive traffic jam.

In the Chelyabinsk region, which borders Kazakhstan, dozens of men were seen by their cars in the vast steppe just after dawn.

At Moscow airports, border guards reportedly sampled young men and questioned them as to whether they were eligible to be drafted.

Putin’s sudden decision to undo six months of so-called “hidden mobilization” and make it public with a nationwide, if partial appeal, surprised not only ordinary Russians, but political insiders as well. “I believe that many people [in the Russian elite] were surprised,” said a former senior Kremlin official who worked closely with Putin until 2016.

“Politically, this is a move you wouldn’t make unless you were desperate – that’s a change of message. Not everything goes according to plan.”

Putin was restrained in Vladivostok

Indeed, in recent speeches in Vladivostok and Samarkand, Putin himself had tried his best to be as bland and low-key as possible, talking about the “challenges” to the Russian economy, but not explicitly mentioning the war at all.

While protests against the mobilization have been small, the sudden increase in the visibility of the war is likely to send politically dangerous shockwaves through Russian society. While a large majority of Russians still claim to support Putin, private Kremlin polls leaked in July showed that Russians were evenly split between supporting a continuation of the conflict or making peace.

About 15 percent of respondents strongly supported what the Kremlin calls the “special military operation,” a similar number strongly opposed, with a 35-35 percent gap between those slightly in favor and slightly against.

After Putin’s partial mobilization, one thing is clear: the Kremlin’s plan to calm the war and fight it with deployable volunteers, colonial troops from ethnic minority provinces such as Buryatia and Chechnya, and prisoners has failed.

With hundreds of thousands of Russians facing the prospect of being sent to war against their will under threat of imprisonment, Putin’s war – and its failures – has suddenly become invisible.

The author of this post remains anonymous due to reporting restrictions

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