Russian Socialist Movement: How is the draft in one of the most opposition regions of the country going?

Alexander Sleptsov
September 28, 2022

On 25 September in one of the central squares of Yakutsk, hundreds of women danced the osuokhai (Yakut traditional round dance). Nearby is the national Sakha theatre and a monument to a socialist, one of the founders of Yakut literature, Platon Oyunsky, who was repressed in Stalin times. In his 1919 poem "Shin biyr buolbaat?" ("Is it all the same?") he wrote: "Having entered into great strife A difficult undertaking, - to change a hard fate. To change our hard fate, Wherever we have to To shed our blood, "Doesn't it matter?" A century later, under his feet they say: "No, it matters!". Women sing songs for peace. The words "Let our children live!" are heard. The police disperse the women, catch them and shove them into an unmarked bus - no paddy wagon. Twenty-four people will be convicted and all will be given fines. Video of the protests was published by the SakhaDay telegraph channel Although the rally was broken up, it was so inconvenient for the authorities that they tried to make it look like "a blessing for mothers to return their husbands and sons alive. Unsuccessfully. And this is not surprising, given the opposition of the Yakutians. The next day, the head of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), Aysen Nikolayev, announced that 120 "mistakenly mobilised" men would return from military bases back to the republic. But the "mistakes" continue to be made. In Ust-Mai seven workers of a boiler-house have been drafted. Four of them have never served. There is nobody to work in the boiler house, and this means that in the village with 2500 inhabitants during the severe Yakutian winter, which has become famous throughout the world, serious problems with heat supply will arise. There are reports of disproportionate conscription: a seemingly small number of men are recruited from villages and hamlets, but they make up sometimes as much as 50% of the total male population of a settlement. People are conscripted without undergoing medical examination and the sick and elderly join the ranks. Relatives of the men drafted into the army complain to various authorities and get no answer. Anger is growing. In response, the authorities have set up a focal point where relatives can file complaints, directing them to the military prosecutor's office and the military commissariat. Officials promise to return the "wrongly mobilized" as quickly as possible. However, no one will advise potential conscripts of their rights and obligations. The only task of the authorities now is to pacify the protesters by resolving the most egregious cases, but to continue to de- populate entire villages. Will they succeed? Is it worth relying on the protest spirit of the republic's residents? The opposition of Yakut residents - both Yakuts and Russians - has not been extra-systemic. Yes, they elected Pyotr Ammosov (CPRF) as a Duma deputy in 2021 instead of Fedot Tumusov (SR), who was supported by both the government and the liberal opposition. It was here that Pavel Grudinin (KPRF) won the most percentages in the presidential election in 2018 and where Sardana Avksentieva, who later joined the New People party, was elected "people's mayor". The elected politicians took a middle ground between the authorities and the people, trying to obscure and round out the contradictions between them. But they cannot change anything fundamentally. For years, residents of Yakutia have protested against the sale of the republic's natural wealth to the federal centre - only 33 per cent of Alrosa, a company engaged in diamond mining in Yakutia, is owned by the Sakha Republic and individual uluses. Neither Fedot Tumusov, nor Pyotr Ammosov, nor Sardana Avksentyeva were able to do anything about it. It's not even a question of direct administrative decisions, over which they have little influence, or rallies and protests, but at least the organisation of any small-scale signature campaign. The same thing is happening to the growing social inequality in the region, the repression, the problem of the bridge over the Lena, which has been promised for decades but never gets built. To go along with the will of the people would mean falling out with those in power in the republic - the oligarchs and officials - and being repressed themselves. The best they dare at the time of mobilisation is to haggle for deferments, reservations and indulgences for certain groups of the population. Perhaps they are actually against it as such. Perhaps. But they can only become a "voice of protest" if there is pressure from below - but who will organise it? Yakutians have lately had little support for the extra-systemic opposition, either among liberals or on the left. Quite a few people came out to rallies for the freedom of political prisoners - but Navalny's structures have been destroyed and no other extra-systemic force has been formed. Now in Yakutia there is simply no force that could organize protests and make use of all the people's accumulated anger. Will it be possible to create such a force?

Alexander Sleptsov, member of the Russian Socialist Movement (RSD)