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“Join the army and see the world”

Russia is recruiting soldiers abroad online, with promotion in English and in a breezy, casual manner, explaining how to join a welcoming, trustworthy organization.

Laas Leivat
Laas Leivat

The website’s promo adopts a Madison Avenue sales pitch: “So, if you’re itching to start running with a brand new AK-12 in notorious Ratnik-2 battle gear, here is what you need to know and what you need to do.”

Then it covers all aspects of becoming a Russian soldier that an adventurous potential soldier abroad would need to know. Owning Russian citizenship is not a barrier. In fact, the recruitment promotion says that “any citizenship will work for you”.

But if you’re looking to become a Russian citizen, it’s stipulated that after five years of service, one becomes eligible for a Russian passport. But just recently, Putin signed a decree fast-tracking naturalization for foreigners joining.

Specifically, “foreigners who sign contracts for at least one year and then spend at least six months in armed conflict zones during which they are SERIOUSLY WOUNDED (u/c Ed.) will be eligible to obtain Russian citizenship in a simplified and expedited way”. Is getting wounded for quick citizenship an enticement?

The promo is outright sexist. It’s stressed that women will only be assigned to administrative jobs and nursing.

Applicants with criminal records need not apply, according to the requirements. But it ignores the active recruitment of convicted criminals. (More below.)

For those planning on joining the FSB (the new KGB), only citizens need apply.

The promotion covers other aspects of joining the military: 30,000 rubles/month wages, exponentially higher than domestic recruits; housing – mortgage for family paid by government, as long as you stay in the military; how to sign up – at any recruitment office in Russia.

The language requirement limits the market the Kremlin is trying to reach. “If you wish to become a ‘badass’ with an AK-12… you MUST (sic) speak Russian,” the promo emphasizes. With 2010 statistics, the number of Russian speakers abroad is estimated at 30 million. The largest community is in Ukraine (8.3 million), then Kazakhstan (3.5 million), then Belarus (700,000) etc.

The recruitment promo states that applicants must be free of a criminal conviction. However, the ‘Wagner group’, an army of mercenaries deployed by Putin in Syria, Libya, the Central African Republic and Mali, is well known for employing the most hardened convicts to engage in the bloodiest battles.

Headed up by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close confidant of Putin, the Wagner group is stated to be ultra-vicious with civilians. Western intelligence reports that Prigozhin has visited prisons urging convicts to join his mercenary army and fight at the front. Wagner has been justifiably accused of war crimes and human rights abuses.

This attempt at attracting from within Russia’s extensive penal colonies is an attempt to compensate for some 80,000 battlefield dead (difficult to confirm). As a tantalizing offer, prisoners have been offered 100,000 rubles a month. Some reports indicate that some 10,000 prisoners have already been signed up to fight in Ukraine.

Thus, Russia has turned its back on a total professional army. Putin started with normal conscription, added mobilization, short-term contract troops, foreign recruitment, mixed with mercenaries and now has been forced to hire prisoners.

Will Russian children, a few generations from now, be told of their valorous troops in battle in Ukraine or of the disgraced generals, Wagner thugs and prisoners hired as killers?

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