Russia’s Vladimir Putin stood all by his lonesome for Russian Christmas mass this weekend in a Kremlin church, looking bored and dead inside—while military brass reportedly worked behind the scenes on preparations to summon another 500,000 citizens to die for him.
For weeks, Russian officials have been reassuring an increasingly worried public that the Kremlin has no plans to draft fresh cannon fodder for the fledgling war against Ukraine.
But, as with so many other claims made by the Kremlin, signs are growing that those promises were nonsense.
Ukrainian intelligence warned this weekend that Russian military officials plan to call up another 500,000 citizens in mid-January, just after the New Year holidays die down.
The Main Intelligence Directorate of Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense said thousands of men are expected to be rounded up in major cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Estonian intelligence offered the same prediction Friday, citing information about thousands of call-up notices being printed in some Russian regions, local media reported.
And even Russian soldiers on the battlefield are apparently buzzing about Putin’s impending countrywide grab for new bodies.
“There are rumors—from various sources, at that—that there will be a full mobilization,” a man identified as a Russian service member said in audio shared by Ukrainian intelligence this week from an intercepted phone conversation.
“Such bullshit. [It will be] either before New Year’s or immediately after. And then supposedly we will fucking attack. We’re expecting an offensive from [the Ukrainians] and we will attack as well,” the unnamed soldier said, before admitting: “It’s seriously already a complete mockery.”
His friend responded by venting frustrations about the current lineup of troops, most of whom, he said, “are getting drunk.”
“We will not hold these [defense] lines,” he said, noting that his squadron had only 50 men to take on hundreds of Ukrainian troops.
“You know the most interesting thing? The general said, ‘They will see that we’re moving to attack and run away.’ Fuck!” he said, before dropping another bombshell: that two Russian battalions—including Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov’s Akhmat special forces unit—surrendered their positions on the frontline by simply walking away.
“Yeah, we fucking shed blood for nothing,” he griped to his friend.
It was not immediately clear where in Ukraine the purported soldiers were, or when exactly the phone conversation took place.
Even as the number of dead and fed-up Russian troops swell to new proportions, Putin seems hell-bent on making battlefield bloodshed a new cultural norm for the country. In his annual New Year’s address to the nation, the Russian leader broke with his traditionally festive backdrop this year to deliver an aggressive speech surrounded by men and women in military garb.
And while the Kremlin may increasingly be losing the support of those who’ve seen firsthand the sloppy results of Putin’s first “partial mobilization”—several families of draftees in the Samara region were the latest to issue a video appeal to the government this weekend bashing the war—the Russian president seems to be filling the void with help from the Russian Orthodox Church.
Vladimir Legoyda, a representative for the church, told Russia’s RIA Novosti on Saturday that the church is working with the military to boost the number of priests sent to the frontline.
The church, he said, “has never associated itself” with pacifism—something he dismissed as a “political ideology” rather than a spiritual notion.
And if thousands more are sent to die and kill, that appears to be fine by Russia’s top holy men, because, as Legoyda notes, “The sacrificial service of a warrior has always received a church blessing.”