With Ukraine's Counter-Offensive Looming, Russia Cracks Down On Draft Dodgers
The law gives authorities unlimited opportunities to impose travel bans, prohibit foreign travel, grant loans, execute real estate transactions and block driver licenses of those who don't show up for conscription. But will it be enough to supply Moscow's military with the trained forces it needs?
A new Russian law will overhaul the country's Soviet-era conscription system and make it harder for Russians to dodge a new draft — but some observers say it may not even work, and will likely create opportunities for corruption and abuse.
The government insists the changes are needed to avoid a repeat of the chaos last year when thousands were recruited for the front in Ukraine, but as a rumored Ukrainian counteroffensive looms, many Russians fear a second wave of mobilization is imminent.
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Previously, military registration and enlistment offices had to serve notices in person, which meant people could dodge the summons by hiding from enlistment officers, explains independent Russian publication Agents.Media.
Under the new law, notices can be sent digitally through the Russian government's online portal Gosuslugi. Recipients have seven days to report to a recruitment center before they can face legal penalties. Deleting a Gosuslugi account won't help: the summons is considered to have been served seven days after it is registered in a government database that collects the data of people eligible for military service.
But some are questioning whether the government will be able to pull off the planned modernization, given its confused, chaotic efforts in the last round.
Valentina Melnikova, Secretary of the Union of Committees of Soldiers' Mothers, doubts that military registration and enlistment offices have the technical ability to register and send out electronic summonses digitally. "There are half-empty personnel files. And it is unclear who will digitize them if the program is ready, and who developed the database. I guess there's none of that at all," she says.
Tough penalties for draft dodgers
The new law allows officials to impose harsh penalties on people who dodge the draft. An estimate 25 million citizens are eligible to be drafted or have already been conscripted — under the new law, all of them could be subject to penalties if they fail to fulfill their service obligations under the new law, Agents.Media reports.
People called up for the draft are banned from leaving Russia as soon as they receive a summons (or the day on which it appeared on their Gosuslugi account). Border guards are expected to receive lists of people banned from traveling.
If a person summoned for military service fails to appear at the military registration and enlistment office within 20 days, they can face other penalties: their driver's license can be restricted, and they can be barred from getting bank loans, buying property, registering a business or being self-employed.
"If a person drives a vehicle and a traffic police officer stops him and finds out that he has restrictions on driving it, then such a person may be held administratively liable," says human rights lawyer Valeria Vetoshkina.
This could become an opportunity for corruption among draft officers.
The prohibitions also apply to those Russians who have left the country, say the lawyers. Due to the restriction of rights, citizens from abroad cannot close transactions with real estate by proxy. If a person wants to sell an apartment and there is a restriction on his rights, the Federal Registration Service will not register the change of ownership rights, and the transaction will not occur.
Servicemen mobilized as part of partial military mobilization wear gas masks as they take part in a military exercise at a shooting range of the Russian Eastern Military District.
Yevgeny Yepanchintsev via Zuma
An opportunity to collect bribes
Ilya Shumanov, head of Transparency International Russia, said the law describes these possible restrictions in detail, but doesn't provide a mechanism for removing them. This could become an opportunity for corruption among draft officers, Shumanov says.
"Military commissars can paralyze the activities of a citizen by blacklisting him," he says. Because of the extensive powers of the military, he fears that even citizens who have not received military summonses may have their rights restricted.
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