Vladimir Putin is poised to sign a law making it tougher for Russians to dodge military conscription, a move that has stoked fears that the Russian president will order another wave of mobilization for Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
The bill would allow for the electronic delivery of military call-up papers, in addition to traditional letters, and would ban those liable for military service from traveling abroad.
Russian officials have denied suggestions that the bill lays the groundwork for a fresh wave of mobilization, after a chaotic order in September prompted scores of Russians to flee the country.
But the strict new rules make it harder and more difficult for Russian men to avoid an order should it be made. Under the bill, the Kremlin would consider Russians notified from the moment they receive a summons, even if they haven’t seen the call-up, and would then ban them from leaving Russia.
The bill passed through its third reading in the lower chamber of Russia’s parliament Tuesday. It is now set to be approved by the upper chamber, the Federation Council, on Wednesday, and finally signed into law by Putin; both steps are considered a formality.
Asked during a regular call with reporters if the Kremlin is concerned that the proposed law, if passed, would trigger another wave of mass exodus of Russians, spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said: “Absolutely not. It has nothing to do with mobilization, it has to do with military registration.
“There is no second wave,” Peskov said after being pressed further to respond to rumors of new attempt at mass mobilization.
The initial effort in September was greeted by chaos, as scores of Russians headed to the border to avoid being sent to fight. Protests also erupted in ethnic minority regions, and some military enlistment offices have been set on fire. The original announcement also sparked rare anti-war demonstrations across Russia.
Officials said the draft’s target of recruiting 300,000 personnel had been met by late October, and brought the drive to an end.
Currently, conscription documents in Russia must be hand-delivered by the local military enlistment office or through an employer. The new bill makes an electronic summons – uploaded to a government portal called Gosuslugi – equal to the traditional method, and does not take into account whether it has been read.
Though the Kremlin has been quick to downplay the significance of the move, its provisions and timing are convenient for a military bogged down in stalemate in its ground campaign in eastern Ukraine, after months of grinding combat which has bled their manpower and weaponry.
Western officials last week told CNN they believe Russia has a problem generating “trained military manpower.”
“[Russia has] acknowledged that they needed 400,000 more troops and that’s not just for the conflict [in Ukraine], but also to fulfill new formations which are going to be put on the new border with NATO and Finland,” the officials said in a briefing on Wednesday, answering a question from CNN.
“How they generate that is unclear at the moment,” the officials added, noting that a new wave of call-ups would pose risks for Moscow. “Whether the population can sustain another round of mobilization and whether the Kremlin actually wants to test the population’s resilience to that it is unclear at the moment, but the fact they haven’t done would indicate to us that they have some concerns about that.”