Putin’s mobilization will continue to turn the Russian economy upside down – POLITICALLY

Elizabeth Braw is one Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, where she focuses on defending against emerging national security challenges.

Russian President Vladimir Putin may be able to mobilize the 300,000 reservists he needs to fight the war in Ukraine – but since his announcement some 360,000 men have already traveled to Georgia and Kazakhstan to avoid that fate, and countless others have made their way to other countries.

Put simply, the more the Kremlin mobilizes, the more men will try to leave the country, and this has a massive impact on all types of Russian jobs and consequently the economy. With so many men gone or about to pack their bags, sectors critical to the functioning of society – from factories to internet providers – are at risk of serious disruption. And Russia has no plan to deal with it.

Many Russians had apparently come to the conclusion over the past month that mobilization might not be far off. We know this because more than 260,000 Russians entered Georgia in August – up from 45,000 in August 2021. And in the six days after Putin’s mobilization announcement, nearly 100,000 Russians arrived in Kazakhstan, with flights to countries like Turkey and the United Arab Emirates suddenly full Emirates illustrating the exodus now taking place.

The men now desperate to leave Russia are, of course, of working age and employable – and their departure is a tremendous loss to the armed forces.

But both the mobilization and flight of so many men, at least as many as will be drafted, will create another problem – the lack of skilled labor in all fields. And the country has no fixed system for the continuity of its society during the war.

By contrast, Russia’s neighbors Sweden and Finland have long had such detailed plans for keeping society going in the event of war, and it involves more than, say, engineers manning nuclear power plants.

“In Finland, every company lists which employees are so important that they cannot be released into the armed forces,” retired Lt. Gen. Arto Räty, a former permanent secretary of the Finnish Defense Ministry, told me. “And it’s not just energy and infrastructure, but companies from all sectors. That means we have a lot of conscripts who never get drafted. It is all the more important that they fulfill their critical functions in civil society.”

Each Finnish industrial sector also has a permanent chief of preparedness, as well as a committee responsible for contingency planning, while the country’s national emergency supplies agency is responsible for ensuring supplies of a variety of essential supplies during crises.

During the Cold War, Sweden operated a similarly detailed plan—one that was later largely discarded but is now being revived—that provided so-called “war mediation” for dozens of workers who would remain in their civilian jobs in the event of war or government duties with similar ones take over functions. Many engineers had war internships, but so did many factory workers, teachers, and journalists—all of which were regularly tested in the country’s total defense exercises.

“Sweden is now in the process of rebuilding our Cold War total defense and creating what might be called total defense 2.0 or societal defense,” retired General Sverker Göranson, a former chief of Swedish defense, told me. “The point is that an all-encompassing defense must encompass all of society, including people performing diverse functions in warfare roles.”

Russians with their bicycles on the street after passing the Verkhni Lars customs checkpoint between Georgia and Russia, September 28, 2022 | Daro Sulakauri/Getty Images

Had Sweden or Finland been invaded during the Cold War, a nucleus of factory workers could have sustained civilian and military production. A core of journalists would have kept the public informed. A core of doctors, nurses, teachers, supermarket employees, train drivers and truck drivers would have ensured that the population was fed and provided with the basic necessities.

Given that today many important services are provided by private companies, it has become even more important and complex to create such plans for their continued operation in times of crisis.

However, as evidenced by the indiscriminate manner in which men are currently being mobilized, it is clear that Russia has no such plan for the continuity of society. And no, there are not enough women who could quickly step in and take over the jobs of the mobilized and refugee men.

“The mobilization is random and will therefore affect the economy,” said Räty. “Maybe not on the first day, but without these men and refugees, the economy cannot continue.”

Of course, if more men are indeed mobilized, critical services and the rest of the economy will struggle more. “We’re already seeing a huge brain drain,” says Kari Liuhto, an economics professor specializing in Russian economics at the University of Turku. “The best people leave Russia. Tens of thousands of tech experts left the country this spring. And the government has no plan on how to replace these people.”

On the other hand, according to Liuhto, it would have been difficult for the Kremlin to draw up and implement a plan for social continuity, “because then the Russians would have realized that a long war could be underway.”

Imagine if you were a Russian factory owner today, unable to produce your goods – for which you now have an excellent market as so many Western companies have left or stopped exporting to Russia – due to a lack of labour. Imagine you are an IT company that is losing engineers with no new ones in sight. Or a food distribution company loses truck drivers. Imagine being a Russian citizen unable to get the goods or services you need. No doubt you will curse the lack of a plan for corporate continuity in your country.

Or, more likely, you’ll start crushing war.