Russian President Putin has signed a bill allowing authorities to issue electronic notifications to conscripts and reservists amid fighting in Ukraine, sparking fears of a new wave of mobilization.
Russian President Putin on Friday signed into law a bill allowing authorities to issue electronic notifications to conscripts and reservists amid fighting in Ukraine, raising fears of a new wave of mobilization.
Russia’s military service rules previously required that notices be delivered personally to conscripts and reservists who were called up for service. Under the new law, notices issued by local military enlistment offices will continue to be sent by mail but will be considered valid from the moment they are placed on the state portal of electronic services.
In the past, many Russians avoided the draft by moving away from their registered addresses. The new law fills this loophole in an apparent effort to create a tool to quickly bolster the military ahead of a widely expected Ukrainian counterattack in the coming weeks.
Recipients who don’t show up for the service will be banned from leaving Russia, have their driver’s licenses suspended and they’ll be banned from selling their apartments and other assets.
The bill that Putin signed into law has been published in the Official Registry of Government Documents.
Critics and rights activists in the Kremlin have denounced the legislation as a step towards a “digital concentration camp” that grants unprecedented powers to military enlistment offices.
Lyudmila Narusova, the widow of former St. Petersburg mayor Anatoly Sobchak, was the only member of the House of Representatives to speak out against the measure when the Federation Council, parliament’s upper house, considered the bill on Wednesday.
Narusova, whose late husband was Putin’s mentor, accused the bill of contradicting the country’s constitution and various laws, and strongly objected to its hasty approval.
The rapid enactment of the law raised fears that the government could start another wave of mobilization in the wake of the one ordered by Putin in the fall.
The Russian authorities deny planning another mobilization. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said this week the measure was necessary to streamline the outdated recall system in light of flaws exposed by partial mobilization last fall.
“There was a lot of chaos in the military enlistment offices,” he said. “The purpose of the bill is to remove this chaos and make the system modern, efficient and citizen-friendly.”
Putin announced the call-up of 300,000 reservists in September, after a Ukrainian counter-offensive pushed Russian forces out of large areas in the east.
The mobilization order prompted an exodus of Russian men, numbering in the hundreds of thousands.
Observers say the new law appears to give the authorities a mechanism to quickly boost ranks in preparation for a new Ukrainian offensive.
“One possible reason is that they see the Ukrainians as preparing an attack,” said Abbas Galliamov, a former Putin speechwriter turned Kremlin critic who has left Russia.
Russian authorities have classified Galliamov as a “foreign agent,” a designation that draws greater government scrutiny and carries strong pejorative connotations intended to undermine the recipient’s credibility. He was also placed on the wanted list of criminal suspects.
Galamov said the law could stoke simmering discontent but was unlikely to spark protests.
“On the one hand, there is growing discontent and reluctance to fight, but on the other hand there is fear of escalating repression,” he said. “People are put before a difficult choice between going into battle and dying, or landing in jail if they protest.”
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