When 18-year-old Timofey Baranov’s studies were interrupted by a text message from an unknown number this week, he suspected it was a hoax.
You will be asked to present yourself to the Conscription Bureau for inspection of your military records,” the invitation read, adding the time and place he was to attend.
Still at school, he was confused when he got the message because his student status exempts him from conscription.
“I blocked it immediately,” he said. “I thought it was a joke. Then someone sent me a link to a message and I saw real people across Russia receiving the same draft notices.”
Russia has lost an estimated one-third of its armed forces since it began invading Ukraine, and it appears that Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, is using a clandestine mobilization to prop up his ailing army.
He has yet to announce a full mobilization, as analysts in the West have predicted, but mounting evidence points to an ongoing covert campaign to entice young men into service.
Agora, a major Russian association of human rights lawyers, has taken more than 2,000 calls and messages since March, with the surge attributed to young men fearing imminent conscription.
“The number of cases related to mobilization has increased exponentially over the past two weeks. That’s the only thing we’ve been dealing with in the last few days,” said Agora’s leader Pavel Chikov.
Social media is littered with posts from Russian men saying they have been ordered to visit their local draft office so their military records can be updated.
“This is not a mobilization yet, it lays the foundation for a mobilization,” said Alexei Tabalov, a human rights activist who runs a hotline for conscripts.
“No one grabs people off the street and sends them off to work. The Department of Defense is trying to estimate how many people it can muster if the need arises.”
Mr. Baranov, a Nizhny Novgorod student applying to study linguistics at a Moscow university, followed his parents’ advice and ignored the draft office’s text because it was not a formal application.
He later discovered that three other boys in his class had been approached that week.
His friend Yegor, receiving a similar message, saw it as a direct invitation to go to Ukraine and fight.
“I don’t think anybody wants to go there,” he said. “They will probably ask you to sign a contract and you will be stationed at the border. Then the next thing you know, you’re in the Donetsk trenches.”
Men twice the age of the boys have also received the invitations.
Igor Razumov, a Russian researcher now living in Germany, received a similar message at his address in Moscow.
Mr. Razumov (44) served as a conscript and should not be held liable for any military service unless war is declared.
The draft offices have regularly updated their databases, but the sudden flood of notifications is unusual.
Once a young man appears at the draft board, he may be formally served with a draft notice. Failure to appear will result in criminal prosecution.
A mobilization order can be served to someone old enough to be a reservist, listing their unit of action in the event of war.
The gap between public support for the Russian army fighting in Ukraine against “Nazis” labeled “Nazis” by the Kremlin and willingness to take up arms and fight in Ukraine is widening.
Most recently, growing fears of mass mobilization resulted in a spate of attacks on conscription offices, including three in less than a week.
The tally of war casualties showed that most of the soldiers who fought and died in Ukraine came from some of Russia’s poorest regions, where a military career is often the only way out of poverty.
Telegraph Media Group Limited 
https://www.independent.ie/world-news/europe/putin-resorting-to-conscription-by-stealth-to-reinforce-his-battered-army-41672935.html Putin resorts to “secret conscription” to bolster his ailing army