It is unclear whether the campaigns are having their desired effect.
Ivan, a 34-year-old Muscovite, told NBC News Friday that he’d noticed the recruitment posters around the capital, but said they did not ignite any desire in him to serve.
The “real man” concept was strange to him, he said, adding, “It’s one thing to serve your family, and another — the way we serve in our army. Those are different things.”
Being a real man for him, he said, was protecting one’s family and doing something good if life, “creating something rather than destroying it.”
There are severe reporting restrictions in Russia, where many find it difficult to speak honestly about the war in public. NBC News chose not to use Ivan’s last name in order to protect him from possible punishment for speaking openly.
Last month, Britain’s military intelligence cited Russian media reports suggesting President Vladimir Putin could be seeking to recruit another 400,000 troops. NBC News could not confirm those reports.
During the first mobilization wave, some Russian media reported stories of newly mobilized soldiers lacking proper training and supplies, and being thrown into the thick of the fighting without much preparation.
But the ad released this week appears aimed at luring contract soldiers specifically to avoid that controversy.
Its appeal for “real men” to join the fight plays into the stereotype of masculinity that has been venerated under Putin — who has admitted he himself once drove a taxi to earn extra money after the collapse of the Soviet Union. For more than two decades, the Kremlin has been cultivating the “macho” image of the Russian leader, who has been often photographed bare-chested, swimming in wild rivers and riding horses while on his summer vacations in Siberia.
That narrative has been amplified and accelerated since the invasion, with many of the hawkish war supporters heralding him as a “real man” for invading his neighbor in the face of the perceived Western threat.
It’s no wonder that in its latest recruitment campaign, the Kremlin is trying to tap into that kind of “emotional motivation” and appeal to the “inner macho” in Russian men, said Andrei Kolesnikov, an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
The use of the narrative dating from the Soviet era sounds “pretentious and noble, while hiding the necrophilic essence of using people as cannon fodder, without regard to the needs of the economy and the decline in the working population,” he told NBC News.
Abbas Gallyamov, a Russian political analyst and former Putin speechwriter, wrote on Facebook that the ad alluded to terminology used “in the criminal world, whose code of conduct is used by Russia’s ruling class.” In that world, he said, the word “muzhik” (meaning “real man,” in Russian) is synonymous with “the one who suffers and tolerates.”
“So this video turned out to be much more telling than originally planned,” he added.
The ad also appears to reinforce an argument Putin himself made to a grieving mother last year that rather than dying from “vodka,” Russian men killed in Ukraine were not wasting their lives in vain.
However, some experts alluded to the fact that Russia was not unique in appealing to manliness as a recruiting tactic, and that a number of nations, including Britain, have employed the “real men” narrative, though perhaps largely decades ago.
The ad was met with ridicule by some media outlets in Ukraine.
A bitterly sarcastic headline in the Kyiv Post on Friday read: “Russian Video Campaign Calls for ‘Real Men’ to Replace Enlisted Cannon Fodder.”
Meanwhile, the Unian news agency said on the Telegram messaging app Wednesday that the ad is the latest “cringe” from Russian propaganda and is trying to sell Russian men on the idea that it’s better to become a “corpse or disabled” than be a security guard or a fitness instructor.