Russian military recruitment increases after deadly Moscow concert attack

Russia said on Wednesday it had seen a significant jump in the number of men signing contracts to join the military since last month’s deadly attack near Moscow where gunman killed at least 144 people. Russia has repeatedly sought to blame Ukraine, its opponent in a war now well into its third year, despite denials from Kyiv and a claim of responsibility by Islamic State militants for the massacre at the Crocus City Hall. In a statement, the Russian defense ministry said more than 100,000 people have signed contracts with the armed forces since the start of the year, including about 16,000 in the past 10 days alone. “During interviews conducted over the past week at selection points in Russian cities, most candidates indicated the desire to avenge those killed in the tragedy that occurred on March 22, 2024 in the Moscow region as the main motive for concluding a contract,” the ministry said. One recruit, Oleg Ternov, said in a video published by the ministry: “After the terrible events in Moscow, I don’t want to stand aside. I don’t want my own native town to see a tragedy like that.” The reported recruitment boost follows a series of assertions by Putin and his security chiefs, for which they had not provided evidence, that Ukraine was behind the mass shooting and had the most to gain from it. Kyiv has repeatedly denied that. The United States has said Islamic State bore sole responsibility, and that U.S. spy agencies picked up intelligence of an impending operation and warned Moscow about it weeks earlier. But to accept that the attack was purely the work of Islamic State would raise awkward questions for Russia about why it failed to act on the U.S. warning and whether its intelligence agencies took their eye off the ball by focusing on Ukraine and domestic war critics instead of Islamist militants. Russia is relying on a steady stream of new recruits to the armed forces as it seeks to push deeper into Ukrainian territory. Putin ordered an unpopular draft of 300,000 men in September 2022 but has said there is no need for another compulsory mobilisation because the numbers signing voluntary contracts are so strong. Posters across Russian cities extol the soldiers as patriots and heroes, and many of those signing up are attracted by salaries far higher than they can earn as civilians. Russia, which launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022, has been slowly advancing in the past two months after a Ukrainian counteroffensive last year failed to make significant gains. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said last month that Moscow would bolster its military by adding two new armies and 30 new formations by the end of this year. Both sides have suffered heavy but undisclosed numbers of dead and wounded. In February, independent Russian outlet Meduza estimated that the number of Russians killed in Ukraine had reached 75,000 by late 2023. Russia, however, has the advantage of a much larger population from which to draw recruits. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Tuesday signed a law to lower the mobilisation age for combat duty from 27 to 25 in order to generate more fighting power.