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Putin resorting to ‘conscription by stealth’ to reinforce his battered army

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Russian president Vladimir Putin is yet to announce a full mobilisation. Photo: Sputnik/Mikhail Metzel

Russian president Vladimir Putin is yet to announce a full mobilisation. Photo: Sputnik/Mikhail Metzel

Destroyed Russian armoured vehicles are piled on the outskirts of the Bucha, Ukraine. Photo Christopher Furlong

Destroyed Russian armoured vehicles are piled on the outskirts of the Bucha, Ukraine. Photo Christopher Furlong

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Russian president Vladimir Putin is yet to announce a full mobilisation. Photo: Sputnik/Mikhail Metzel

When 18-year-old Timofey Baranov’s studies were interrupted by a text from an unknown number this week, he suspected it was a practical joke.

You are requested to present yourself at the conscription office  for an inspection of your military records,” the invitation read, adding the time and the place he should attend.

As he is still in school, he was confused to receive the message because his student status exempts him from being drafted.

“I blocked it immediately,” he said. “I thought it was a hoax. Then someone sent me a link to a news story and I saw that real people are getting the same draft notices across Russia.”

Russia is estimated to have lost a third of its combat forces since the beginning of its invasion of Ukraine and it appears that Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, is employing stealth mobilisation to shore up his battered army.

He is yet to announce a full mobilisation, as analysts in the West predicted, but mounting evidence points to an ongoing covert campaign to entice young men to serve.

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Agora, a major Russian association of human rights lawyers, has fielded more than 2,000 calls and messages since March, with the uptick attributed to young men fearing imminent conscription.

“The number of cases linked to mobilisation has been growing exponentially in the past two weeks. This is the only thing we’ve been dealing with in recent days,” said Agora’s head, Pavel Chikov.

Social media is littered with posts by Russian men saying they have been ordered to attend their local conscription office so their military files can be updated.

“This is not a mobilisation yet but rather laying the groundwork for a mobilisation,” said Alexei Tabalov, a human rights activist who runs a hotline for conscripts.

“No one is snatching people on the street and sending them off to serve. The defence ministry is trying to estimate how many people they can put together if the need arises.”

Mr Baranov, a student from Nizhny Novgorod who is applying to study linguistics in a Moscow university, followed his parents’ advice and ignored the text from the conscription office since it was not a formal request.

He subsequently discovered that three more boys from his class had been approached this week.

His friend Yegor, who received a similar message, saw it as a direct invitation to go and fight in Ukraine.

“I don’t think anyone wants to go there,” he said. “They’re probably going to ask you to sign a contract and you will be stationed at the border. Then next thing you know you are in the trenches in Donetsk.”

Men twice the boys’ age have also been receiving the invitations.

Igor Razumov, a Russian researcher who now lives in Germany, received a similar notice at his address in Moscow.

Mr Razumov (44) has served as a conscript and should not be liable for any military service unless a war is declared.

Conscription offices have regularly updated their databases, but the sudden flurry of notices is unusual.

Once a young man shows up at the conscription office, he can be formally served with a draft notice. Not showing up will incur criminal charges.

Someone who is old enough to be a reservist can be served a mobilisation order that lists his unit of deployment in case of war.

A chasm between public support for the Russian army fighting Kremlin-deemed “Nazis” in Ukraine and willingness to take up arms and fight in Ukraine is widening.

Most recently, growing fears of a mass mobilisation spilled into a flurry of attacks on conscription offices, including three in less than a week.

The tally of casualties in the war revealed that most of the troops who fought and died in Ukraine were from some of Russia’s poorest regions, where a military career is often the only way out of poverty.

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]


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