Digital conscription could stop men fleeing Russia to avoid call-up (2023)

Vladimir Putin appears to be clamping down on Russian men trying to dodge his invasion of Ukraine by creating a new digital conscription system which would leave them unable to flee abroad.

Under new legislation advanced by Russian lawmakers today, the draftee would be banned from travelling abroad and would have to report to an enlistment office after being called up.

Currently, draft notices have to be delivered in person in Russia, which many Russian men have managed to doge by refusing to pick up the enlistment orders and fleeing the country.

Last year, Putin's order to call up hundreds of thousands of men to boost regular forces in Ukraine kicked off an exodus, with tens of thousands rushing to leave the country.

Russia's lower house of parliament, the State Duma, approved the legislation on second and third readings today, sparking fears more men will be forced to help beef up Putin's regime.

Russian lawmakers today advanced on a controversial bill that would create a digital conscription notice system. Pictured:Russia's lower house of parliament, the State Duma

It would be far more difficult to doge a call-up to the army if the conscription papers became electronic - something Putin appears to be clamping down on

The proposed changes come months after Putin ordered in September a 'partial' military call-up to boost regular troops fighting in Ukraine in what has become the first military mobilisation in Russia since World War II.

Hundreds of thousands of men have been drafted, while tens of thousands more have fled the country.

Some lawmakers complained on Tuesday that the legislation was rushed, with Nina Ostanina of the Communist Party saying many did not have time to study dozens of pages of the proposals.

'We all bear responsibility for this bill,' she said in parliament.

Another Communist, Artyom Prokofyev, asked why the bill was being adopted under 'such a veil of secrecy'.

But Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the lower house of parliament, urged MPs to avoid 'sabotaging' the readings.

The bill would next have to be backed by senators and signed by Putin to officially become law.

Those who fail to show up at the enlistment office within the 20 days following receipt of the electronic draft notice will not be able to take out loans, register property or work as individual entrepreneurs.

The clamp down on conscription risksbarring men from leaving Russia as Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine stretches into a second year. Pictured: Ukrainian soldiers on the frontline of Donetsk

Hundreds of thousands of Russian men have been drafted, while tens of thousands more have fled the country. Pictured: Ukrainian soldiers go to the Donetsk frontline

Some Kremlin critics say the provisions will also punish Russians who have already fled the country by barring them from continuing to have remote jobs or from selling property.

'Now, with just one click, it is possible to send almost everyone to the trenches,' StalinGulag, one of Russia's most popular opposition bloggers, wrote on social media.

READ MORE:Huge swathes of Putin's empire is cut off from the internet in mystery outage amid suspicions of sabotage linked to Ukraine war

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He warned that many officials would be tempted to disregard disqualifying conditions for the military service including health or family circumstances.

'You will be talking about your flat feet or three children including children with disabilities somewhere near Bakhmut,' said the anti-Kremlin blogger, referring to the frontline hotspot in eastern Ukraine.

Military service for men between the ages of 18 and 27 is mandatory in Russia, with conscription carried out twice a year.

Andrei Kartapolov, chairman of the defence committee at parliament's lower house, said before the vote that the new rules would apply not only to young conscripts but all men liable for military service.

'The draft notice is considered received from the moment it is posted in the personal account of a person liable for military service,' Kartapolov said in televised remarks.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Tuesday denied plans to conduct a second wave of mobilisation, saying the new amendments were needed to 'perfect and modernise' the country's military call-up system.

'This work is absolutely necessary,' he told reporters.

Andrei Kartapolov, chairman of the defence committee at parliament's lower house, said before the vote that the new rules would apply not only to young conscripts but all men liable for military service

He also said the Kremlin did not expect the legislation to spark fresh panic and more men to flee the country.

'Absolutely not,' he said. 'Because this is not related to the mobilisation.'

The latest move by Moscow comes despite Putin reportedly struggling to maintain loyalty among local officials due to discontent over the cost of the ongoing invasion.

Military analysts claim that Putin has been forced to resort to installing vending machines, offering free city parking and preferential bank loans to try and boost morale.

Ukraine, meanwhile, maintains that its spring offensive remains un-impacted by the leak of dozens of secret US documents, which include fears that Kyiv's attack will fall short amid shortages of newly-trained troops and anti-aircraft missiles.

HOW PUTIN PLANS TO CLAMP DOWN ON DRAFT DODGERS

Russia is poised to introduce electronic military draft papers for the first time in its history as it seeks to tighten up the system it has used to expand its military forces in Ukraine and crack down on draft dodgers.

Here are some key facts about how Russia drafts soldiers and what it is planning to change and why.

HOW RUSSIAN MEN ARE CURRENTLY DRAFTED

One year's military service in Russia is compulsory for all men aged from 18-27. The authorities would like to change that age-range from 21-30. Annual conscription takes place twice a year - in the spring and autumn. One-off mobilisations can also be announced - like one announced last year that recruited over 300,000 men to fight in Ukraine - targeting men in a much wider age range.

Under the current system, men targeted by military recruiters are hand delivered paper summons in person at their registered addresses or sometimes at their place of work. They must personally sign a document to confirm their receipt.

The papers order them to report to a specific enlistment office by a certain date.

However, military recruiters and police officers have sometimes struggled to deliver such papers or locate people and do not always have their target's latest home address.

HOW WILL MEN BE DRAFTED IN FUTURE?

Under the new plan, Russian men will start receiving draft papers by registered post and via their personal account on the 'Gosuslugi' online public services portal - the same site used to book doctor appointments or manage state pensions.

The old system of delivering papers in person will also remain in place. The new rules will apply both to conscripts and to men who are targeted in one-off mobilisation campaigns.

An online call-up will have legal force from the moment it is delivered to someone's personal account, regardless of whether the account holder has seen it or not.

If for some reason the summons cannot be delivered electronically, it will be deemed served seven days after its publication in a newly-created 'register of summonses.'

HOW WILL RUSSIA DEAL WITH DRAFT DODGERS?

Once the electronic summons is served under the new legislation men who fail to show up at the military enlistment office by the required date will be automatically banned from travelling abroad.

The ban will be indefinite - until the individual reports to a military enlistment office.

The details of everyone banned from leaving the country will be stored in a 'unified register of military records' to which border guards will have access.

If someone dodges the draft, the authorities will be empowered to take tougher measures such as imposing a driving ban, a ban on taking out loans and mortgages, and restrictions on receiving certain state benefits and payments.

In addition, criminal liability for evading conscription will remain in place. Russian citizens currently face a two-year prison sentence for evading military service.

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