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New Russian law would make it difficult to avoid being drafted into war in Ukraine

ANDREW LIMBONG, HOST:

Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to sign a new law cracking down on draft dodging. The proposed law raced through Russia's lower and upper houses of parliament this week. And that potentially has big implications for Russia's war plans in Ukraine. To help break it all down for us is NPR's Charles Maynes from Moscow. Hey, Charles.

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Hi there.

LIMBONG: All right. So, Charles, what would this law actually do?

MAYNES: Well, you know, on a basic level, it makes it very difficult for Russians, primarily Russian men but some women, to avoid being drafted or conscripted into the war in Ukraine. You know, until now, call-ups had been done through a paper draft summons. In other words, a recruitment officer would deliver a letter to your home or place of work with instructions to report for duty. That's now been replaced or will be replaced by electronic notices - so emails that are issued through an e-governance portal that Russians use to pay utility bills, taxes and that sort of thing. But the key is that any email draft notice would be binding from the moment the government hits send.

LIMBONG: Well, what does that mean in, like, practical terms?

MAYNES: Well, for one, Russians who are issued notices are immediately banned from leaving the country. That primarily concerns men of conscription age, 18 to 27 years old, but also reservists and other members of the military. And those who don't show up to the recruitment office soon face restrictions on everything from getting bank loans to driver's licenses, even acquiring or selling property. Meanwhile, those who refuse service outright risk potential prison time. So for Russians who, for whatever reason, don't want to participate in the war in Ukraine, their options are shrinking fast, especially given that this bill raced through the parliament in just a couple days.

LIMBONG: Why does the Kremlin say this law is necessary?

MAYNES: Well, it helps to back up to the mass mobilization drive from last fall. This is when President Vladimir Putin called up an additional 300,000 troops for the war in Ukraine, which did several things. You know, on the one hand, it provided reinforcements for the front line, but it also prompted hundreds of thousands of Russians, particularly younger Russians, to flee for the borders to avoid the draft. And even Russians who stayed often managed to dodge military service by switching addresses or going into hiding or even ignoring the draft notices outright. In fact, the Kremlin and lawmakers point to the chaos of that mobilization drive in justifying the new law, saying it was time to close these loopholes and modernize the system.

LIMBONG: All right. So, Charles, does this mean those still in Russia are facing military service immediately? Like, are they facing a second wave of mobilization?

MAYNES: Well, the Kremlin insists no. And whether more Russians are called up to fight in Ukraine would seem to depend on what happens over the next several months, particularly as Ukraine prepares to launch a counteroffensive. You know, recently, the Kremlin's focus has been on recruiting volunteers, signing up contract soldiers by offering far higher salaries to fight in Ukraine than most could earn at home. And it's easy to understand why. You know, the mobilization announcement was deeply unpopular. Last year we saw protests across the country, the troops themselves complaining of being ill-equipped or ill-trained. You know, and all of this led President Putin publicly to acknowledge mistakes had been made. And so as the Kremlin seems to be preparing for a long war in Ukraine, the new approach appears to be replenishing forces but on a much slower burn. And this new law would allow them to do it.

LIMBONG: NPR's Charles Maynes. Thanks so much.

MAYNES: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS SONG, "SCAR TISSUE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.