NewsRussia's forced draft targets ethnic minorities, sparking outcry

Russia's forced draft targets ethnic minorities, sparking outcry

Putin's Siberian battalions are leading the indigenous peoples of Russia to the brink of extinction.
Putin's Siberian battalions are leading the indigenous peoples of Russia to the brink of extinction.
Images source: © Getty Images | Bloomberg

12:11 PM EDT, April 28, 2024

Representatives of diverse nationalities serve in the Russian military, highlighting the country's vast ethnic variety. Specifically, the rapid and often careless mobilization of individuals, predominantly men but occasionally women, from Siberia and Russia's eastern fringes raises concerns among residents of Buryatia.

Although over 80% of the country's population identifies as Russian, these individuals are mostly concentrated in the more affluent western parts, particularly within major cities. Russia's demographic landscape is far from homogenous; the nation is home to over a hundred ethnic groups.

In certain areas, the Russian population dips below 30%, giving rise to "ethnic islands" where communities have some degree of autonomy – at least in theory. However, the central government's control over these regions demonstrates that this autonomy is more nominal than real, with the strategies and decisions of Moscow often overriding local interests.

The Russian army's invasion of Ukraine more than two years ago saw the widespread conscription of entire communities and families, a strategy driven by President Vladimir Putin's objectives. The situation in Buryatia was highlighted by a resident of the village of Orlik in a conversation with "Siberia". Realia brings to light the grim fate of the Tuvans, among others, forcibly conscripted into the military. Heartrending stories emerge, such as that of a woman who lost her only son, a young professional, to the war, his body returned home in a coffin.

Complaints against the authorities extend far beyond the battlefield losses. Promises made to exempt families of the deceased or missing from further conscription have been blatantly ignored, with reports of numerous family members being drafted from the same household.

While some have fled the country to avoid the draft, others, branded as "Putin’s Buryat warriors," still face involuntary conscription and, often, a disregard for their lives on the frontlines. This term, born from the tragic events in Bucha, has since been a source of misunderstanding and resentment, as not all those fighting wish to partake in the conflict's most brutal aspects.

The strategic conscription of people from Russia's peripheries serves multiple purposes for Putin. It spares ethnic Russians from mass conscription and, more sinisterly, acts as a means to suppress and potentially eradicate groups seen as a threat to future stability.

The secretive handling of the war dead, initially marked by formal farewells, has given way to silence and denial amid rising casualties, described by some as a form of genocide against Russia's indigenous peoples.

The consequences for those resisting conscription are dire. Threats and blackmail against families make resistance nearly impossible. Accounts from the ground describe forced conscription at the threat of severe personal and familial repercussions.

This multipronged strategy of mobilization, suppression, and intimidation reveals the complex and often grim realities faced by many within Russia, caught between ethnic identity and the demands of a state pursuing its militaristic ambitions without regard for the human cost.
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