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POLITICS

“Drafted on the same day, slashed his wrists upon arrival at his army unit”: Coercive tactics in Russian military conscription

The conclusion of the autumn conscription in Russia is near. Commencing with raids on migrants and arrests near metro exits, the methods employed by military commissars have grown progressively sophisticated and severe each week. People were forcibly extracted from hostels, dormitories, plucked from parks, and transported directly from their homes to the recruitment points. Recently enlisted men were subjected to intimidation, deception, and confinement in enlistment offices, with threats of head-shaving and promises to make their lives a “personal nightmare.” The Insider interviewed conscripts and their close relatives, revealing enlistment office workers' attempts to intimidate them with charges of espionage, manipulate test results, and incite self-harm. It appears that by asserting one's rights and citing the law, one still has a chance to avoid immediate deployment to military units even in seemingly dire circumstances.

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Content
  • People are being snatched from dormitories and hostels: “They grabbed him in the evening, despite the deferment, and by 1am they dressed him in uniform and took him away”

  • From home to the front in one day: “The beat cop took my brother, and then they gave him a draft notice and wanted to send him to the army that same day”

  • Being brought to the enlistment office under the pretext of processing an administrative offence: “Give up your phone, or else you'll be charged with espionage”

  • How to protect yourself in the final days of the draft: “It's important to have a clear stance, a trusted representative, and a prepared set of documents”

In Ukraine, based on confirmed information from open sources alone, nearly 40,000 Russian military personnel have already lost their lives, with the actual number of casualties potentially being two to three times higher. Untrained mobilized soldiers are thrust into “meat grinder” assaults, deprived of leave, and denied hospitalization despite serious injuries — there is evidently a shortage of personnel on the front lines. Therefore, it is not surprising that the 2023 autumn conscription campaign quickly transformed from distribution of draft notices to forced transportation to military enlistment offices and immediate “same-day” dispatch to assembly points.

Both Putin and representatives of the General Staff have repeatedly assured that conscripts will not be sent to the forefront. However, the Regulations on Military Service allow for deployment to the combat zone four months after conscription, provided the necessary training is completed (which is often neglected not only for conscripts but also for mobilized soldiers). Nevertheless, even without this, conscripts are often sent to annexed Crimea or border regions that are regularly shelled. They may even be compelled to sign contracts with the Ministry of Defense — a practice that has become commonplace since the beginning of the war.

The examples of conscripts recently transferred for service in the Belgorod and Bryansk regions are disheartening: one died in a missile attack, another was killed by gunfire, and a third lost his life without serving even four months (subsequently, the enlistment office reported that he “was killed in action while guarding and defending the state border of the Russian Federation”). These are just a few recent examples, not to mention the cruiser Moskva, which sank in the first months of the war and had a crew mostly composed of conscripted soldiers.

During the ongoing autumn conscription, reaching its conclusion these days, the hunt for conscripts has taken unprecedented proportions.

City Assembly Point of the Military Enlistment Office of the City of Moscow located at: 3с1 Ugreshskaya Street, Moscow.

People are being snatched from dormitories and hostels: “They grabbed him in the evening, despite the deferment, and by 1am they dressed him in uniform and took him away”

In the pursuit to meet the quota — as per Vladimir Putin's decree, at least 130,000 men must be called up — people are seized from everywhere, often with violations of all possible laws and regulations. The initial weeks of the conscription were marked by a loud scandal: on October 21, police spetsnaz stormed a prayer house in the Kotelniki district of Moscow and took away parishioners present there — both migrants and Russian citizens.

In the enlistment office, they were forced to sign a contract with the Ministry of Defense, sending them into service “on the same day.” Later, mosque visitors in the Balashikha suburb of Moscow became targets, followed by raids on Wildberries warehouses in Elektrostal and Reutov, and a little later — on a warehouse in Aleksin in the Tula region.

“This morning, police spetsnaz raided the Wildberries warehouse in Elektrostal and took many people from there. Among them is my boyfriend <...>, they were taken to the enlistment office in Lyubertsy, and now he is being held there illegally, forced to sign a contract... I have no contact with him. He also said that after all this, they will be taken to the assembly point in Zheleznodorozhny,” — such a message was sent to Elena Popova, the coordinator of the Conscientious Objectors movement, during the raid in Elektrostal, by a girl who worked there; after that she stopped responding. Later, it was revealed that 105 people were brought to the enlistment office from the warehouse.

If such “checks” are a frequent but irregular occurrence, sudden visits by law enforcement and enlistment office personnel to workers' dormitories and hostels have become almost constant recently. “During one of these visits, they almost took a guy from Donetsk — he came here to work on a rotational basis,” Popova recounts. “He managed to escape right from the enlistment office; his family will be filing a lawsuit.”

However, not everyone was so fortunate. Maxim, who learned that his partner had been taken from the hostel while he was at work, recounts that they held him in the enlistment office all night, and the next day, despite his valid deferment, they sent him to the assembly point:

“On November 23 at nine in the evening, the beat cop and a civilian from the migration service came to our hostel. It's unclear why because there are no migrants living with us since the majority of the rooms are occupied by our organization: Oleg and I work in security. There were no migrants, and they seized the first person they encountered — which happened to be Oleg. He is 19 years old, and he has a valid deferment until the summer of 2024 — all the supporting documents are in the Belaya Kalitva enlistment office, where he is registered.
The next day by five in the evening, they grabbed all his belongings, and by one in the morning, they took him away — we have access to each other's phones, and I saw the location when he left from there. I'm sure there was no communication between enlistment offices; they simply decided to send him to serve immediately. Moreover, the Kuntsevo military enlistment office, where they brought Oleg, was open — meaning it was operational for the beat cop at 10 in the evening, although its normal working hours are until five, and that's surprising. I told Oleg's mother to file a complaint about abduction by officials because they took him without any documents, without a court order — without anything.”

Since being sent to the assembly point, Oleg has only been in contact once, informing his mother that he is in a psychoneurological center in Podolsk. Maxim couldn't ascertain the exact information about his whereabouts; however, several days later, he learned that Oleg ended up there after a suicide attempt:

“I found out that on the very first day of arriving at the military unit, Oleg slashed his wrists, and since then, he has been at the psychoneurological center at 4 Mashtakova Street. They haven't explained anything to him all these twenty days: they say they might release him, and if they don't, he will continue to serve.”

City Assembly Point of the Military Enlistment Office of the City of Moscow located at: 3с1 Ugreshskaya Street, Moscow.

On the very first day of arriving at the military unit, he slashed his wrists

Maxim recounts that a few weeks ago, he retrieved Oleg's belongings from the Kuntsevo enlistment office and discovered that the phone was damaged, and the bag with valuable items was missing.

From home to the front in one day: “The beat cop took my brother, and then they gave him a draft notice and wanted to send him to the army that same day”

Enlistment office personnel, along with law enforcement officers, not only break into hostels and workers' dormitories but also make surprise visits at the places of permanent registration or at rented apartments of conscripts:

“To determine the place of residence of a conscript, we use city surveillance systems. According to the Moscow mayor's instructions, organizations where conscripts work must provide information about them to the military enlistment offices. Educational institutions help us determine where the conscript is studying,” Moscow's military commissar Maxim Loktev said in April 2023.

They try to enter the apartment of potential conscripts by any means. In November, for example Artem Kazakov from Moscow was taken away in the following manner: the police, together with enlistment office personnel, came to his home, pretending to be Avito buyers.

But often, recruiters' success in such cases stems from the impulsive actions of relatives, as happened with the brother of Moscow resident Arkadiy <name changed to protect the interviewee — The Insider>:

“Early in the morning, someone rang the doorbell, and my mom answered the door because she didn't know it was a wrong thing to do. There stood the beat cop who told her he needed to see my brother. They woke him up, let him gather his things — he didn't take some of the documents with him, but the beat cop didn't care about that. The cop pressured my brother by calling him a willful draft dodger, and tried to intimidate him by saying he was wanted by the police. All this despite the fact that my brother hadn't received any draft notice. If he had known his rights, he would, of course, not have gone anywhere, but at that moment, he pinned his hope on the deferment he received from his company, which in the end turned out to be invalid.”

Arkadiy recounts that they took his brother from the local police station to the enlistment office in the company of two district administration workers:

“These people were with him at the enlistment office all day. Already there, they made him undergo a medical examination: it went very quickly, no medical tests were required during conscription. After that, they gave a draft notice to my brother — for the same day, and on that same day they sent him to the medical commission, where he was told he was fit to serve.”

City Assembly Point of the Military Enlistment Office of the City of Moscow located at: 3с1 Ugreshskaya Street, Moscow.

The absence of necessary documents that he had left at home saved the young man from being sent to the military unit:

“Without these documents, they couldn't process his dispatch. But by that time, I had already come to the enlistment office and, saying that I wanted to give my brother a keypad phone, managed to get inside. Frankly, the military commissar is just scum. Throughout this time, he threatened my brother, yelled at him because of the missing documents. In the end, my brother was handed two more draft notices — for the next two days, and the commissar said that if he came tomorrow with all the documents, they would give him another five days to get his affairs in order, although the third draft notice said the opposite.
The commissar kept saying that if my brother didn't show up the next day, they would file a criminal case against him. And if he wanted to take sick leave — the outcome would be the same: he tried to intimidate and deceive my brother in every possible way.”

City Assembly Point of the Military Enlistment Office of the City of Moscow located at: 3с1 Ugreshskaya Street, Moscow.

My brother was handed three more draft notices — for the next three days, including today
“When my brother was finally released, we contacted human rights organizations and filed a lawsuit. Interestingly, during the court hearing, the enlistment office's lawyer had the results of my brother's medical tests, which he hadn't taken during the medical examination. The lawyer simply provided 'fake' data. We lost the case in court, but there is time to appeal — the main thing is to just survive until the end of the conscription.”

Being brought to the enlistment office under the pretext of processing an administrative offence: “Give up your phone, or else you'll be charged with espionage”

One can end up in an enlistment office not only during police raids — there are more sophisticated ways of bringing in potential conscripts. Often, their forcible transportation to the military enlistment office is justified by allegations to the effect that they have committed an administrative offense — failure to appear in response to a draft notice. Although, according to the law “On Military Duty and Military Service,” in such cases the conscript should be taken to a police station so that a protocol could be drawn up, the police take the draft dodger straight to the enlistment office. Usually, this is associated with a personal request from the military commissar: he is not interested in holding the conscript accountable; he wants to compel him to undergo conscription.

Under this pretext, at the end of November, Moscow resident Vladimir Lukin was brought to the enlistment office — police officers grabbed him right from the street as he was going to work. However, instead of drawing up a protocol, they forced the young man to undergo a medical examination and immediately sent him to the assembly point. According to the coordinator of the Conscious Objectors movement, Elena Popova, the presence of non-draft-related illnesses (hypertension and bipolar disorder) did not help: Vladimir was released from the assembly point only when he stabbed scissors into his arm and flooded the room with blood.

“He tried to explain that he needed hospitalization, they ignored it, so he stabbed himself— and they let him go. Later, they asked with surprise: 'Why didn't you say you were sick?' Although he kept repeating it for hours,” Popova says.

In the same manner, they attempted to send Ivan <name changed to protect the interviewee — The Insider> to serve. A familiar beat cop brought the young man to the assembly point, having first summoned him to the police station over a “personal matter”:

“The beat cop, Alexander Balashkin, said that it had nothing to do with conscription — just asked to come and have a talk. But in the middle of the conversation, he suddenly asked, 'How are things with the enlistment office for you?' — and handed over an order compelling me to appear at the enlistment office.
I tried to explain to him that everything was fine, that I had filed an application for alternative service. But the beat cop was not convinced — he took me by the hand, called a taxi, and shoved me into the car.”

City Assembly Point of the Military Enlistment Office of the City of Moscow located at: 3с1 Ugreshskaya Street, Moscow.

The beat cop took me by the hand, hailed a taxi, and shoved me into the car
He brought me to the assembly point. There, I was accompanied by two National Guard officers, the deputy in charge of conscription, a security guard, and a girl — an assistant for legal matters. They argued with me for a long time, trying to send me for a medical examination, but my instinct for self-preservation and the realization that they were playing unfairly against me did their job — I refused to undergo a medical examination.
They tried to convince me that I missed the deadlines, and my application for alternative civilian service (AGS) was invalid because I was supposed to submit it before the spring conscription. This is not true: there is an explanation from the Constitutional Court stating that a missing deadline is not a reason to reject an application, which I was trying to emphasize. They repeatedly insisted on one thing: “On what basis will the conscription board draw conclusions? You should go through the medical examination.” I said, “First, they should convene the conscription board and consider my conscientious objection to military service.” When I uttered that phrase, one of the National Guard officers who escorted me mockingly said, “Doesn't your god Lumumba forbid you to shoot?”

In the end, a representative from the military enlistment office came to persuade Ivan:

“After several hours of useless conversation and attempts to pressure me, they got tired and called the deputy in charge of rear work from Ugreshka — Mikhail Zakharov. I repeatedly asked him to introduce himself, but all he said was, 'I am your nightmare, I came to drive demons out of you!' At some point, he turned to everyone and said, 'Get the soldier a proper haircut; I'm taking him with me to Ugreshka.' I said, 'Don't even think about it,' and he replied, 'I'm not going to ask you!'
Then he started insisting on taking my phone, stood literally face to face with me, and shouted, 'Show me your communication device, or you'll go to jail for espionage right now!' I told him, 'No, I won't give it to you.' It was scary, but there comes a point where you take a risk and realize you have nothing to lose.
Then he went into a room and said, 'Come here, show me the documents.' I replied, 'Let's talk here — in front of everyone,' and then the National Guard officer grabbed me from behind by the shoulders and said, 'Don't make us use force.' I still refused to go, and at this point, they dragged me into that room.
By that time, my girlfriend had arrived at the military enlistment office, but they didn't let her in, saying it was impossible to have a constructive dialogue with me. So she called the police. The police suggested she go to the station and file a complaint about an unlawful detention, but she refused, wrote it on the spot, not leaving the enlistment office.”

Ivan was saved from being sent to the assembly point on that same day by the fact that, despite all threats and pressure, he continued to stand his ground, refusing to comply with any actions of the officials:

“During this time, they gave me several sheets of paper and told me to write a complaint. I wrote about my disagreement with the attempt to draft me within one day, complained about the attempt at forced conscription. I listed all possible military authorities and asked them to register the complaint. They told me they didn't have a document processing department — I needed to go to the enlistment office, which was in another building, so I left under the pretext of having to register the complaint.
Moreover, while exiting the checkpoint, I saw other draftees waiting outside, not able to get in. When I asked why they weren't allowed in, I was told the enlistment office was closed. In other words, they closed the checkpoint for me alone so that I couldn't leave the premises.”

How to protect yourself in the final days of the draft: “It's important to have a clear stance, a trusted representative, and a prepared set of documents”

Elena Popova, the coordinator of the Conscientious Objectors movement, suggests that the drafts grew most intense in mid-October when a conscript could be handed three draft notices for the same day:

“The military commissar issued warrants for everyone; they have a database, so they would grab a man and then check if he was on their lists. Although there were moments when they went randomly—especially in the case of hostels where people clearly were not on military registers.
Now, when they brought a person to the enlistment office, they would hand him three draft notices for the same day—for medical examination, conscription, and dispatch (the practice continues to this day). This was not the case before, but apparently, due to numerous complaints, they adopted this tactic.”

Should you find it impossible to escape from the draft officers and police during a raid, you must have a clear understanding of what to do to avoid being sent to the military unit, no matter what they tell you, Elena Popova says.

  • Firstly, under no circumstances should you go from the military enlistment office to the assembly point. Clearly state your position immediately, asking, “Why have you brought me here? If it's for drawing up an administrative offense protocol, go ahead. For everything else, including the medical examination and dispatch, provide a draft notice in advance, as required by law, but not now.”
  • Secondly, clearly state your position. Your position should be defined in advance, supported by a package of necessary documents—medical documents, deferment/exemption confirmations, applications for alternative civilian service, and the like. Compile copies of all documents, including those reflecting your interactions with the military enlistment office, in a folder and have it with you.

If the police stop you, show them these documents and immediately get in touch with someone from the Conscientious Objectors movement or with your trusted representative who you can inform that you are talking to a police officer. Don't forget to ask if there has been a written request from the military commissioner regarding your apprehension. Often, the police say they have not received such a request. If they insist on detaining you, tell them that if the military commissioner believes you committed an administrative offense, let him handle the case in your absence and send you a copy of the protocol and order.

  • Thirdly, appoint your trusted representatives. The ideal scenario is for someone close to you to arrive at the moment of your apprehension to intervene. It's essential to prepare a power of attorney in advance for this person to represent your interests in all government agencies, the military enlistment office, the draft board, and medical institutions.

Regrettably, when an individual has undergone a medical examination without asserting their position, there is a risk of coercion. Instances have arisen where people were forcefully put on a bus and sent to the assembly point. Nevertheless, if someone maintains a clear stance, categorically refusing military service under any circumstances, such scenarios can be averted. Possessing a thoroughly organized document package, a “security folder,” and a trusted representative implies careful planning, making it unfeasible to haphazardly conscript such a person into the army.

City Assembly Point of the Military Enlistment Office of the City of Moscow located at: 3с1 Ugreshskaya Street, Moscow.

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