Russian lawmakers on Tuesday voted to enforce an electronic draft system that would make it nearly impossible for men to avoid conscription, the latest sign that Moscow is preparing to boost a military struggling under Kyiv’s fierce counterattack.
The new system comes ahead of Ukraine’s widely anticipated spring offensive.
Currently, Russian men have to be served with paper conscription notices, delivered in-person at a registered address or place of work. Some 300,000 men were recruited to fight in Ukraine last year. Russia has not said how many more men it might be seeking to mobilize.
According to the law, men would be barred from leaving the country from the day they receive the summons and until they appear at a military recruitment office. Those who fail to show up within 20 days will face a number of restrictions, including a ban on driving vehicles, selling and buying real estate and obtaining bank loans.
The new rules, which could be enforced as early as this week and apply to both draftees and reservists, mean that a conscription notice will be considered delivered and legally valid as soon as it lands in one’s account on Russia’s state portal for electronic services.
The “Gosuslugi” portal is widely used by Russians for online public services, such as registering births, paying fines and booking doctor appointments, so avoiding it to dodge the draft would be very difficult.
The changes appear to give the Kremlin a much more streamlined system that would enable a more thorough conscription effort, closing loopholes that have helped thousands dodge the draft.
In an unpopular move, President Vladimir Putin first announced partial mobilization as his forces struggled in Ukraine last September, resulting in a mass exodus of Russian men and a wave of protests across the country.
There were no official estimates of how many men may have fled, but many among those who did not leave the country and were unwilling to fight hid from authorities.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu vowed on Oct. 28 that no more would be mobilized in the near future.
The Kremlin has tried to downplay any fears of a new wave of conscriptions.
Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Tuesday that the legislation changes are part of a wider effort to modernize an outdated call-up system, and do not mean a new mobilization effort is on the horizon.
The swiftly-introduced draft changes show that regular Russians are being sucked into the conflict, said Michael Horowitz, an Israel-based analyst and the head of intelligence at Le Beck risk management consultancy.