Wanted: Contract Soldier. Good Pay. Bonus For Destroying Ukrainian Tanks.
By Yury Baranyuk June 10, 2022
There are plenty of job vacancy announcements on Russian employment websites and social media these days: drivers, dishwashers, cooks, programmers, grocery store cashiers.
Also on offer: jobs/positions fighting in Russia's war on Ukraine.
Now in its fourth month, with no end in sight, the invasion is morphing into a war of attrition, as Russia struggles to achieve a semblance of victory and Ukraine mounts a dogged defense, often against the odds. Both sides are inflicting heavy casualties; Ukrainian officials say they're losing more than 100 soldiers a day.
Russia, meanwhile, is doing everything in its power to hide its losses. Reliable estimates are hard to come by, but Western officials say killed-in-action numbers likely exceed 20,000.
Russia's tempo of losses - of both men and equipment and weaponry -- is not sustainable, many Western experts say, but the Kremlin has resisted calling for a general mobilization.
To replenish its depleted manpower in Ukraine, Russia has resorted to what some observers have called a "stealth mobilization." The effort includes a formal recruitment page posted on the Defense Ministry's website.
But it also includes help-wanted ads posted on major job recruiter websites, as well as social media networks, such as VKontakte. The positions are for jobs in Russia's regular armed forces.
One, posted on the jobs site Head Hunter on May 24, was titled "Contract Soldier," with a published salary starting at 150,000 rubles a month before taxes. (about $2,550, well above the median national salary of the equivalent of $950)
"The grenade launcher is part of the motorized rifle squad," the job description reads. "He plays an important role in strengthening the firepower of the squad. Armed with a grenade launcher, a stock of rocket-propelled grenades, and grenades with shaped charges, he fires at land and sea targets and enemy armored vehicles, and suppresses firing points."
Among the benefits listed: room and board, medical insurance, clothing allowance, a pension after 20 years of service, and other items.
It makes no specific mention of the war in Ukraine.
Other positions listed on help-wanted websites include antiaircraft gunner -- requirements: "to perfectly know your weapon and own it" and driver --responsibilities: "ensures the efficient and safe operation of the equipment entrusted to him when transporting unit personnel and logistical equipment as required in everyday life and in battle."
Another, posted without a date on the site SuperJob, is for a more senior position: "commander of a military unit." Starting salary: 200,000 rubles ($3,400). Responsibilities include "knowing the terms of combat and general military regulations; the basics of combined arms combat...weapons and military equipment of the unit; the rules for their use and maintenance; the basics of training and education; maintaining military discipline and the high morale and psychological state of personnel."
Several of the help-wanted ads are posted to Russia's largest social media network, VKontakte, on pages dedicated to contract military service.
One page, which has 133,000 followers, is called "Army Z" -- a reference to the "Z" symbolism that the Kremlin has adopted for the war -- and comprises heavily propagandistic videos, including one dating back to 2015 called I'm a Russian Occupier.
"I'm a Russian occupier, and I'm tired of apologizing for it. I'm an occupier by right of birth, I'm an aggressor and a bloodthirsty monster. Be afraid," the video said. The studio that produced the video later said it was commissioned by an unnamed government entity.
Conscripts And Contractors
President Vladimir Putin has resisted calling a general mobilization, which would essentially entail declaring full war on Ukraine, rather than what the Kremlin euphemistically now calls a "special military operation."
Such a move could backfire with the Russian people, most of whom have so far shown support or complacency about the war despite the mounting death toll and the country's increasing isolation.
Currently, Russia's 900,000-strong armed forces are a mix of conscripts -- all men aged between 18 and 27 are obliged to serve a year of military service -- and volunteer contract soldiers, who make up a growing proportion of the overall fighting forces.
Contract soldiers, who typically sign up for three or more years, tend to be better trained than conscripts, who are barred from being deployed to active combat such as that which is occurring in Ukraine.
Aside from posting help-wanted ads, officials have undertaken other efforts to bolster the fighting force.
Lawmakers also recently passed a law that allows men over 40 years of age to serve in the armed forces. And Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that combatants of the Ukrainian "special military operation" would be considered veterans under Russian law, entitled to a host of lucrative, long-term social benefits.
In a video obtained by RFE/RL's Caucasus Realities, a recruiter in southern Russia's Krasnodar region says soldiers will receive bonuses for "heroic acts" such as "destroying a tank, a plane, an armored personnel carrier, and so forth."
It's not clear how much impact the recruiting and help-wanted ads are having in increasing manpower.
Further complicating the recruiting is that, despite official efforts to squelch any public discussion about the casualties and death toll that Russian forces are facing, some military and paramilitary units have balked at deploying to Ukraine.
One prominent Russian rights lawyer said in April that more than 1,000 military personnel and troops from the National Guard from at least seven regions have refused to obey deployment orders to Ukraine. Open-source researchers say the actual number was likely much higher.
'Vacancies At Vagner'
Other ways commanders have bolstered the main fighting force in Ukraine include an all-Chechen military unit known as the "Kadyrovtsy" sending them to specific locations in Ukraine, like the battle for the port city of Mariupol.
And private mercenary companies like Vagner, notorious for its role in conflicts from Libya to Syria, have also stepped up recruiting online and social media networks.
One page on VKontakte called "Vacancies at Vagner" features a post dated June 3 that reads "How To Join Vagner in 2022?!"
"What does the company offer?" the post reads. "A motivated, adult team with experienced fighters with extensive combat experience. The absence of an army madhouse, bureaucracy and other things. Constant real combat training, the opportunity to acquire new special skills. Opportunity to work all over the world."
The presence of private soldiers in Russian military operations is problematic from a legal standpoint: Private military companies remain illegal in Russia, even if Vagner and other such networks have grown in stature and presence, used by Russian military and intelligence agencies as a shadow military force.
Russian military officials could not be reached for comment or to answer questions about the help-wanted advertisements and whether they were increasing recruitment.
Written by Mike Eckel based on reporting by Yury Baranyuk of Current Time. RFE/RL's Caucasus.Realities contributed to this report.
Copyright (c) 2022. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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