Russia’s lower chamber of parliament, the State Duma, has for the first time adopted a bill on electronic military draft papers.
Lawmakers approved the necessary legislation with lightning speed on Tuesday with near unanimity.
Last year President Vladimir 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.
The new legislation that was adopted on the second and third readings on Tuesday will make dodging the draft and fleeing much more difficult, observers say.
Even some Kremlin-friendly lawmakers complained that the legislation was rushed and adopted “under a veil of secrecy”.
Under the current system, potential conscripts are hand-delivered paper summons at their registered address or place of work which they have to sign for personally.
But recruiters have sometimes struggled to deliver the papers to the right address.
Under the new proposals, the 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 they are delivered electronically.
Cracking down on draft dodgers
It’s part of an effort to make it harder for men to avoid being drafted.
In a previous mobilisation at the start of the war in Ukraine, tens of thousands of draft-age men fled abroad. Russian authorities hope the new system will help them catch draft dodgers. Men who don’t respond to the electronic summons will be immediately banned from leaving the country.
While Russian officials say they have no plans to announce a new call-up, Andrey, a student in Moscow, said he feared the Duma vote was a sign more people would be drafted as the war stretches into its second year:
“Digitalization is great, of course, but it’s sad that it is most likely a signal for the next mobilization. I would like fewer people to suffer from this.”
‘Veil of secrecy’
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 departed abroad.
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 still needs to be approved by the upper house of parliament and by President Vladimir Putin before they take effect.
‘Just one click’
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.
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.
He warned that 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 frontline hotspot in eastern Ukraine.
Many Russians complained they had been called up and sent to the front in Ukraine last year in violation of the legislation.
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 military call-up system.
“This work is absolutely necessary,” he told reporters.
He also said the Kremlin did not expect the legislation to spark fresh panic and send more men fleeing the country.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “Because this is not related to the mobilisation.”