Last spring, the Russian military kicked off a new recruitment drive for the war in Ukraine, seeking to replace tens of thousands of dead and wounded without having to resort to an unpopular draft.
The New York Times has tracked how the campaign played out on Russian state television and social media, and found that recruitment messages focused on the Kremlin’s official rationale for the invasion — an existential threat from the West against Russians — played only a supporting role.
Rather, there were frequent appeals to masculinity, sometimes voiced by soldiers’ wives and other women interviewed on television news. There were incessant reminders of above-average pay and benefits for military servicemen. And the messages — appearing both in video ads produced by the Defense Ministry and on regular TV newscasts — stress the ease of signing up, promising relief from Russia’s notorious bureaucracy.
The campaign appeared to start in April. Online, the Defense Ministry published a splashy video ad focusing on two central motivations: machismo and money. It defines military service as more meaningful — and manly — than what’s depicted as the Russian man’s typical, humdrum existence. After moody shots of civilians transforming into modern warriors, the ad ends with a more down-to-earth reminder: “Monthly payments starting at 204,000 rubles,” or about $2,000.
The themes in the Russian Defense Ministry’s recruitment campaign are picked up frequently in television newscasts — as would be expected, since all of Russia’s major television channels are controlled by the state. But the news anchors and reporters delivering the message are essentially acting as glorified recruiters themselves, repeatedly reminding viewers of the quick-dial phone number — 1-1-7 — they can turn to if they want to sign up to fight.
Since the invasion, state television newscasts have been offering viewers a sanitized view of the war. But there are signs that, at least in some regions, the costs of war have now become too widespread to ignore.