Russia eyes digital draft as Ukraine war losses mount

New electronic call-up orders will apply not only to young conscripts but all men liable for military service.

Russian reservists attend a ceremony before departing to the Ukraine war zone [File: Sergey Pivovarov/Reuters]

Russia plans to introduce electronic military draft papers in an effort to make it harder for men to avoid being called up to fight in Ukraine.

The State Duma, the lower chamber of parliament, approved the necessary legislation in two separate votes at lightning speed on Tuesday with near unanimity.

Under the new proposals, summons will be sent electronically to a potential draftee’s personal account on the main government portal. They would be considered delivered as soon as delivered electronically.

Under the legislation, citizens who fail to show up at the military enlistment office will be automatically banned from travelling abroad and face a raft of other restrictions to complicate their lives inside Russia.

Andrey Kartapolov, chairman of the defence committee, said 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.

‘Veil of secrecy’

The move is part of a wider push by Moscow to perfect a system it has used to bolster its military forces in Ukraine, though government officials say there are currently no plans to compel more men to fight there.

The new draft regime will close numerous loopholes exploited by draft dodgers and give Russia the organisational infrastructure to carry out a much more thorough and wider mobilisation campaign – if and when it decides to do so.

Some politicians complained the changes were rushed through without giving them enough time for scrutiny.

Nina Ostanina of the Communist Party said many lawmakers 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, speaker of the lower house, urged parliamentarians to avoid “sabotaging” the readings.

‘Need to modernise’

The changes still need to be approved by the upper house – which is also expected to vote in its favour by a large margin – and by President Vladimir Putin, before they take effect. Both steps are expected in the coming days.

Russia says it mobilised about 300,000 men last year to help it prosecute what it calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine, but is now focused on trying to recruit professional volunteer soldiers via an advertising campaign.

“We need to perfect and modernise the military call-up system,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a news briefing, recalling “problems” experienced last year with the mobilisation campaign.

The initial decision to introduce mobilisation for the first time since World War II prompted tens of thousands of draft-age men to flee abroad, while some protests broke out – and were swiftly suppressed – in multiple Russian cities.

“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.

He warned many officials would be tempted to disregard disqualifying conditions for 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 front-line hotspot in eastern Ukraine.

Thousands of Russian soldiers and mercenaries have reportedly been killed in the months-long battle for Bakhmut.


Fix ‘mistakes’

Peskov dismissed suggestions the digitalisation plans might prompt a further wave of panic and emigration among young male Russians keen to avoid having to fight in Ukraine.

“[This plan] is not connected to mobilisation,” he said, repeating previous assurances there were no plans for a second wave of mass conscription.

Under the current system, men targeted by military recruiters are hand-delivered paper summons at their registered addresses or places of work, which they are required to sign for personally.

Recruiters have sometimes struggled to deliver the papers and to know if they have the right address for a draftee.

The Kremlin last year pledged to fix “mistakes” in its initial mobilisation campaign that saw men who were ineligible for the draft because of age or medical conditions being called up to fight in Ukraine.

Source: News Agencies