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Russia plans crackdown on men avoiding the draft

A new online system means anyone who receives a military summons will be banned from leaving the country

Thomas Rowley
11 April 2023, 5.13pm

A billboard in St Petersburg depicts a Russian soldier next to the slogan “Thank you to the Heroes of Russia!”


Olga Maltseva / AFP / Getty Images

Russia plans to stop men avoiding the draft by introducing a new digital conscription system that would ban them from leaving the country.

The new legislation, passed by the Russian Parliament on Tuesday, will allow military officials to summon Russian citizens to draft offices via an online state services portal, which is widely used for taxes and other official documents. It now has to be approved by Russia’s Federation Council as well as president Vladimir Putin.

The country’s spring conscription campaign, when men between the ages of 18 and 27 can be drafted for their 12-month obligatory military service, is currently taking place.

To date, the Russian military has relied on physical documents when summoning people to the army – but the use of the popular Gosuslugi website will make it far easier to make sure citizens have, in fact, received the call-up to the military registration office.

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“Officials from the [Russian] Ministry of Defence have said on many occasions that the system of issuing a summons only after an individual [physically] signs for it has to be changed,” Sergey Krivenko, head of the human rights group Citizen and Army, told Current Time TV, which is part of Radio Liberty.

Once a Russian citizen has received a military summons online, they will be automatically forbidden from leaving the country

That’s because “people don’t live at the address where they are officially registered, and it’s hard to find them,” he explained.

The legislative changes mean that once a Russian citizen has received a military summons online, they will be automatically forbidden from leaving the country, and therefore avoiding the call-up.

If they fail to appear at a draft office within 20 days, they will face a range of restrictions, including a ban on using their own vehicle, selling property or receiving a loan. They also face a fine of between 500 and 3,000 rubles (£5 to £29).

The head of Russia's parliamentary committee on defence claimed that these measures will only come into force during the next conscription campaign.

The new system also anticipates a unified database where personal data about Russian reserve personnel can be collated by a range of government institutions, such as the tax service, law enforcement, the pension fund and medical facilities.

Such a database will make it “practically impossible” for reservists to avoid being called up, anti-conscription lawyer Alexey Tabalov told independent Russian media outlet Verstka, because military registration offices will have more detailed information about an individual’s home and work address.

This changes the advice he has been giving people who want to avoid mobilisation, Tabalov says.

Whereas he previously recommended that people avoid receiving the physical summons document, that “recommendation has lost all meaning” now, he said. “If you don’t want to serve, don’t go to the military registration office, but you’ll still face restrictive measures,” Tabalov said.

Second mobilisation expected

The new system comes as Russia reportedly prepares to recruit 400,000 professional soldiers to fight in its war against Ukraine, against a backdrop of Western intelligence reports that Russia lacks troops to defend its occupied territories in southeastern Ukraine.

“The plans that Defence Ministry officials have come out with are unrealistic,” Krivenko commented. “The campaign to recruit contract soldiers failed last year – this is why they started the first wave of mobilisation.”

He added: “The number of citizens who want to volunteer to fight in the war with Ukraine is very small. Judging by all the available information, the [authorities] are preparing to carry out a second mobilisation – avoiding the problems they found last autumn.”

The Kremlin announced a “partial mobilisation” of reserve military personnel last September, adding tens of thousands to the army to fight against Ukraine. This move spurred many Russian citizens to leave the country.

But now, it seems, Russians who want to avoid mobilisation will have to develop new ways of dodging the draft – and that will get harder as the authorities collect more information about men eligible for service.

“If you have the chance to leave Russia, this is the best way to avoid mobilisation,” said Grigory Sverdlin, head of the Go Through the Forest project, which helps Russian citizens leave the country.

11 April: article updated to reflect new comments from head of Russia's parliamentary committee on defence.

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