Vladimir Putin held his end-of-year press conference, this year combined with his annual "Direct Line" phone-in. The Russian leader responded to dozens of questions, including those related to the war in Ukraine and mobilization in Russia. In particular, the president stated that the second wave of mobilization was not yet needed, as enough people had been drafted, or had volunteered to fight. According to Putin, Russia currently has a total of 617,000 troops fighting in Ukraine, 244,000 of whom are mobilized civilians. An additional 41,000 mobilized soldiers had allegedly been discharged having reached the maximum age limit. Putin also claimed that following an aggressive mobilization campaign, another 486,000 had enlisted voluntarily as contract soldiers, with 1,500 men across the country still signing contracts with the Russian Army every day.
Based on the numbers Putin shared, some media outlets and analysts attempted to estimate Russia’s casualties. The Sota media outlet assessed irretrievable losses sustained by Russia as 322,000, whereas military analyst Ian Matveev estimated Russia’s irretrievable losses at 363,000. The Agentstvo.Novosti [Agency News] Telegram channel pointed out that the figures cited by Putin leave out some 33,000 mobilized men, i.e., those who are neither among those still serving at the front, nor listed as discharged. Furthermore, for the numbers to add up, half of the Russian Army would have to be in reserve (which is not supported by any evidence). BBC News Russian also looked into the numbers of military personnel announced by Putin. It should be noted that the president’s vague wording left wide room for interpretation, while some of the data that he presented appeared inconsistent or outright false. Therefore, the estimates discussed above should be treated with caution.
In response to a question from a former Wagner Group mercenary who complained that he and many of his comrades were unable to obtain combat veteran status, Putin said that the issues faced by mercenaries in obtaining combat veteran status needed to be addressed. However, he mentioned that it is hindered by the fact that "formally, legally, there are no private military companies in Russia; they are not provided for by law." During his Direct Line, Putin also stated that Russians have donated over 10 billion rubles [$111 million] to support Russian soldiers. He expressed gratitude to "citizens who are so concerned about the interests of the frontline."
In addition, during the Direct Line, Putin promised to allow mercenaries from the Veterans AAB, which is part of the Redut PMC controlled by the Ministry of Defense, to participate in children's education. According to him, over 1,000 former fighters have already been employed in schools and with children's groups. Earlier, Vazhnyye Istorii [IStories, independent Russian investigative media outlet] and the Astra Telegram channel reported that the Redut PMC was involved in "buying" people to send them into "meat grinder" assaults.
Following the Direct Line, relatives of mobilized soldiers expressed their dissatisfaction with the lack of answers regarding demobilization in Telegram chats and channels. Gorizontalnaya Rossiya [Horizontal Russia] and Vazhnyye Istorii compiled some of the messages from the chats of the relatives of mobilized soldiers and spoke with the women themselves. Journalists from the Mozhem Ob'yasnit [We Can Explain] Telegram channel took a comment from Maria Andreeva, one of the most prominent representatives of the Put Domoy [Way Home] community of mobilized soldiers’ wives.
As noted by the Voyennye Advokaty [Military Lawyers] Telegram channel, members of the State Duma [lower house of the Federal Assembly of Russia] have started rejecting and revoking draft bills on deferment from mobilization for various reasons. These draft laws were initially submitted to the State Duma in October 2022. Among the bills that have been withdrawn are those that would have provided deferments for: parents of children with disabilities, children of those who died while serving in the military, men who haven’t previously served in the military, as well as holders of academic degrees, individual entrepreneurs, and sole shareholders of limited liability companies.
Initiatives aimed at equalizing statuses, benefits, and guarantees for all participants in the "special military operation" will be introduced into the State Duma in spring 2024. This was announced by the Chairman of the Defense Committee, Andrey Kartapolov, following Putin's Direct Line. Kartapolov also noted that deputies are currently working on a "law on the PMC." It is worth noting that in October 2022, the deputies already passed a law equating the status of volunteer fighters with that of contract soldiers.
Yevgeny Stupin, a deputy of the Moscow City Duma [city parliament], published a photo of a draft notice issued for Dec. 18 by the draft office of the Frunzensky district in Yaroslavl. The reason for the summons, as stated in the relevant section of the draft notice, is "to undergo a medical examination and be deployed to the special military operation zone."
Aleksandr Avdeyev, Governor of the Vladimir region, announced that among the contract soldiers who volunteered for the war in Ukraine from the Vladimir region, there are citizens of Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Russian authorities promise simplified procedures for granting Russian citizenship to foreigners who sign contracts with the Ministry of Defense.
A mobilized soldier from the Primorsky region [Russia's federal subject] is being sent to war for the second time despite his deteriorating health. Previously, he fought in the Zaporizhzhia region where he suffered a post-concussion syndrome. However, his military unit refused to send him for treatment to a hospital and suggested that he return to the war. They refuse to conduct a military medical board for the man, citing a certain Ministry of Defense Directive No. 565, according to which a medical examination board can only be appointed if a criminal case is initiated.
The court in Novosibirsk has put Yevgeny Ryapolov in a pre-trial detention center until Feb. 6, 2024. He is charged with attempting an act of terror and illegal possession of weapons or ammunition. The man was arrested on Dec. 13 on suspicion of attempting to stage an explosion at the city's draft office.
In Moscow, seven naturalized citizens are facing the loss of their acquired Russian citizenship for the crimes they have committed, which, besides drug trafficking, propaganda of terrorism and sexual assault, also include evading military service.
At the opening of the "Teacher is the Future of Russia" forum, Minister of Education Sergey Kravtsov presented awards to 29 teachers who had been on the frontline.
From 2024, Vladimir State University will offer training for students in the profession of "Specialist in Unmanned Aerial Vehicles."
The Russian Field sociological project conducted a telephone survey of 1,600 people to measure support for the demand to bring mobilized soldiers home, which has been voiced by their relatives. The results showed that 48 percent of respondents agreed with the demand, while 32 percent opposed it. Support for demobilization varies by age and gender, with women generally more supportive than men. Support also tends to decline with age.
The Kazan Gunpowder Plant is increasing its production and actively seeking employees across Russia’s constituent Republic of Tatarstan. Workers are being lured with draft deferments, bonuses, and numerous incentives. Individuals from outside Kazan are guaranteed free transportation and 10,000 rubles [$110] for rent. The plant promises to pay 50,000 rubles [$560] to applicants with no experience and education, while workers with a 6th-grade qualification are offered starting salaries of 78,000 rubles [$870]. As of June 2023, the plant had over 2,500 employees.
The US Department of the Treasury estimated that over a million people left Russia after the start of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine began, with 668,000 leaving in 2022 (71% higher than the average for the previous five years) and another 400,000 to 500,000 leaving in 2023. Previously, sociologists announced the potential departure due to the war and mobilization of 820,000 to 920,000 people, of whom 15% could subsequently return to the country.
Last week, the US Department of Commerce imposed a package of sanctions on 28 Russian companies involved in the production, import, and other activities in the military-technical sphere. Two of them, Albatros and Dolphin Alabuga, are based in the Alabuga Special Economic Zone in Tatarstan. The Idel.Realii [part of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty] online media outlet reported on what is known about drone production in the Alabuga SEZ and how it is affected by the sanctions.
The Bumaga [Paper] independent media outlet published a large article on how the government is depriving Russian soldiers of part of the money they are entitled to by taxing their award payments in violation of the law.