Russian President Putin on Friday signed a bill allowing authorities to issue electronic notices to draftees and reservists amid the fighting in Ukraine, sparking fears of a new wave of mobilization.
The bill signed into law by Putin was published on the official register of government documents.
Russia’s military service rules previously required the in-person delivery of notices to conscripts and reservists who are called up for duty. Under the new law, the notices issued by local military conscription offices will continue to be sent by mail but they would be considered valid from the moment they are put on a state portal for electronic services.
In the past, many Russians avoided the draft by staying away from their address of record. The new law closes that loophole in an apparent effort to create a tool for quickly beefing up the military ahead of a widely anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive in the coming weeks.
Recipients who fail to show up for service would be prohibited from leaving Russia, would have their drivers’ licenses suspended and would be barred from selling their apartments and other assets.
Kremlin critics and rights activists denounced the new legislation as a step toward a “digital prison camp” that gives unprecedented powers to the military conscription offices.
Lyudmila Narusova, the widow of former St. Petersburg mayor Anatoly Sobchak, was the only house member who spoke against the measure when the Federation Council, the upper house of parliament, considered the bill Wednesday.
Narusova, whose late husband was Putin’s mentor, charged that the bill contradicts the country’s constitution and various laws, and strongly objected to its hasty approval.
The swift enactment of the law fueled fears of the government initiating another wave of mobilization following the one that Putin ordered in the fall.
Authorities have said that another mobilization isn’t planned. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said this week that the measure was needed to streamline the outdated call-up system in view of the flaws that were revealed by last fall’s partial mobilization.
“There was a lot of mess in military conscription offices,” he said. “The purpose of the bill is to clean up this mess and make the system modern, effective and convenient for citizens.”
Putin announced a call-up of 300,000 reservists in September after a Ukrainian counteroffensive that pushed Russian forces out of broad areas in the east.
The mobilization order prompted an exodus of Russian men that was estimated to number in the hundreds of thousands.