Russia | 09/17/2022

Russia 2022 September


In early September, the Ukrainian Armed Forces launched a powerful counter-offensive with the Balakleya-Izyum operation, after which Russian forces were forced to retreat. The UAF’s success exposed the Russians’ main shortcoming: the Russian army lacked personnel at the front.

In response to the threat of an all-out collapse of the front, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on 21 September a partial mobilisation to affect 300,000 men.

On 23 September, the authorities of the occupied territories announced so-called referendums on joining Russia. Quickly organised referendum were held on the new territories becoming part of Russia, where, according to official figures, an overwhelming majority (97-98%) voted in favour. Now any attempt by Ukraine to retake the land will be seen as an attack on Russian territory. Today Russian troops control the main part of the territory only in Luhansk and Kherson regions. In seven months Russian troops have failed to reach the administrative boundaries of Donetsk Region, although this was exactly what was envisaged at the beginning of the SAO in Ukraine. In Zaporizhzhya Region, Russia does not control not only the main part of the region’s territory, but also the regional centre.

On 30 September, Putin signed a decree on the accession of the Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics, Zaporizhzhya and Kherson regions to Russia.

In mid-September it was reported that Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan had allegedly announced his country’s possible withdrawal from the CSTO. Previously, Armenia had sought military assistance amid escalating conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. Immediately after this statement, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi travelled to Armenia.

During the night of 26 September, leaks were detected in the pipes of the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 pipelines. The Swedish National Seismic Network recorded explosions near the Danish island of Bornholm at 2:03am. The estimated yield of each was about 100 kg of TNT equivalent. On 29 September, Russian President Vladimir Putin called the Nord Stream accident an act of international terrorism.

On 26 September, the FSB detained the Japanese consul in Vladivostok, M. Tatsunori. According to the special services, he was receiving secret information related to the impact of sanctions on the economy. The Russian authorities said that the Japanese diplomat was caught red-handed while receiving “restricted distribution” data from an informant.

Updates in the National Landscape

After President Putin announced a partial mobilisation on 21 September, tensions rose sharply. Several waves of protests took place across the country, accompanied by clashes with law enforcement agencies and severe detentions. Mass migration of men of conscription age has also started, which has also led to tensions at checkpoints unsuited to the workload. The situation was particularly difficult on the border with Georgia, where the North Ossetian authorities were forced to introduce a high state of alert.

Nearly 1 million people have left Russia since the mobilisation began, a source familiar with Kremlin estimates told Forbes. Another interlocutor in the presidential administration specified that we are talking about 600,000-700,000 Russians. At the beginning of September, i.e. before the mobilisation began, Rosstat reported that 419,000 people left Russia for other countries in the first half of 2022.

A notable phenomenon has been the growth of protest sentiments in the national republics, where people are particularly emotional and at times aggressive. In particular, clashes have started in Dagestan and have become a challenge for regional authorities and law enforcement agencies. Conflicts have increased in YakutiaBuryatia and even in Chechnya, where it has become difficult to conceal the contradictions between the society and the authorities, which Ramzan Kadyrov carefully tried to camouflage or suppress.

A widespread trend has been the growth of social aggression and violence that is reflected in a growing number of episodes. Dissatisfaction with mobilization is expressed through the burning of military enlistment offices and administrative buildings as well as local incidents involving the use of firearms. Another shooting of schoolchildren, this time in Izhevsk, also drew a wide response. At the same time, independent human rights activities continue to be curtailed: for example, Russian human rights activists have negatively perceived the ongoing update of the lists of members of public monitoring commissions (PMCs) that protect the rights of convicts and those arrested: the lists do not include all known individuals who have been engaged in these issues in the past.

In addition, there is a growing public disillusionment with the army and its capabilities and resources, undermining the basis for patriotic consensus. Testimonies of conscripts about the lack of basic conditions for their accommodation, transportation and training, and about the blatantly poor organisation of the conscription are widespread. Also negative are the numerous reports of errors in the drafting of the lists of those to be drafted, when people who are clearly unfit for military service receive summonses.

Transnational Activities & Group Interactions

Russian nationalists have switched completely to war. Even symbolic rallies in September were practically non-existent.

Serbian nationalists from the Serbian Action and other far-right groups carried a giant Russian flag through Belgrade as part of a procession on the Day of the Decoration of the Head of John the Baptist. The Russian Imperial Movement and the Imperial Legion assured that this was done by “their Serbian friends”.

On 25 September, the Serbian Action published a collage of photos of a Ukrainian soldier from Azov and a Russian soldier from the Imperial Legion with the caption “choose between evil and orthodoxy”.

Transnational Developments on Discourse in Mainstream Media

Renowned far-right journalist Michael Colborne has published an interesting text on pro-Russian sympathies in the Balkans.

Western journalists have noticed discontent among the Russian far-right, who support the war and Vladimir Putin. After a successful Ukrainian counter-offensive in early September, the far-right began criticising Putin.

The British newspaper The Guardian published a text headlined ‘We have already lost’: far-right Russian bloggers slam military failures. It quotes far-right leader Igor Girkin (Strelkov), who started a war with Ukraine in 2014.

A text similar in content and meaning was published in the respected US magazine Foreign Policy under the title “Putin Has a New Opposition-and It’s Furious at Defeat in Ukraine”.

Transnational Social Media Activity & Propaganda/Narratives

A video was published which allegedly shows businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, close to Vladimir Putin, personally recruiting prisoners from a colony in the Mari El Republic for the war against Ukraine. The video appears to have been made on a mobile phone or video recorder, which FSIN officers are obliged to wear. Who made is not specified. There is also no direct evidence that the footage, which is not of high quality and contains montage, is of Prigozhin, although the appearance and voice of the person recruiting the prisoners is very similar to that of the businessman. In the video, a man who looks like Prigozhin, standing in front of a line of men in prison uniforms, appears to be a member of the private military company Wagner and talks about the conditions of being sent to war.

The press service of Concord, a company owned by Prigozhin, responded to journalist enquiry by describing a person on a video as “monstrously similar” to the businessman and noting that he also had a “very well-positioned speech”.

“Indeed, we can confirm that the man in the video bears a monstrous resemblance to Yevgeny Viktorovich. Judging by his rhetoric, he is somehow involved in implementing the objectives of the special operation, and he seems to be successful at it. In addition, you are quite right to point out, dear Dmitriy, that the man in the video has a very well-positioned speech, just like Yevgeny Viktorovich,” the press service said in a message.

This video has become extremely popular on Russian social media. Prigozhin’s credibility among the Russian far-right has skyrocketed.

Transnational Political and Financial Cooperation

In September, Russian far-right groups were raising money for the front. At the end of the month it was also revealed that the leaders of the far-right publishing house Black Hundred had themselves gone to the front.