Minutes after Putin announced the draft, administrators of the anti-Kremlin group Rospartizan announced their own “mobilization,” preparing supporters to bomb military draft officers and the Ministry of Defense with Molotov cocktails. “Ordinary Russians are invited to die for nothing in a foreign land,” they wrote. “Agitate, incite, spread the truth, but don’t be the one to legitimize the Russian government.”
The Rospartizan Telegram group, which has more than 28,000 subscribers, has posted photos and videos purporting to show early actions against the military mobilization, including burned offices and broken windows in local government buildings.
Other Telegram channels offer citizens opportunities for less direct, if far more self-interested, actions, such as fleeing the country, even though the government has instituted a nationwide ban on selling airline tickets to men aged 18 to 65. Groups that advise the Russians. about how to escape to neighboring countries came up almost as soon as Putin finished speaking, and some groups already on the platform adjusted their message.
A group, offering tips and advice on how to move from Russia to Georgia, is fast approaching 100,000 members. The group dates back to at least November 2020, according to previously posted messages; since then, it has been providing information to potential travelers on how to reserve seats on minibuses crossing the border and how to travel with pets.
After Putin’s statement, the channel was co-opted by young people who gave alleged first-hand accounts of the border crossing this week. Users share their age, when and where they crossed the border, and what, if any, resistance they encountered from border guards.
For those who haven’t decided to flee Russia, there are still other messages on how to avoid military conscription. Another channel, created shortly after Putin’s recruitment drive, collects information on where police and other authorities in Moscow are signing up men of military age. It gained 52,000 subscribers in just two days, and they keep track of photos, videos and maps showing where recruitment orders are received. The group is one of many: another Moscow-based Telegram channel doing the same has more than 115,000 subscribers. Half of this audience joined within 18 hours during the night of September 22nd.
“You won’t see many calls or advice in established media about how to avoid mobilization,” says Golovchenko. “You will see this on Telegram.”
Golovchenko adds that the Kremlin is striving to gain supremacy on Telegram because of its current position as a wealth of subterfuge for those opposed to Putin and his regime. “What’s at stake is how much Telegram can amplify the idea that war is now part of everyday life in Russia,” he says. “If Russians start to realize that their neighbors, friends and parents are being killed en masse, that will be crucial.”