Since the beginning of March, a growing number of military age men in 43 administrative regions across Russia have been receiving summonses to report to their local enlistment offices in what could be preparations for another round of military mobilization in the country, Russian human rights lawyers and advocacy groups say.
According to data compiled by various groups based on screenshots and photos of the summonses, the growing number has mostly been directed to reservists and university students that deferred military service because of their studies.
Many of those who received a summons have not reported to their local office, according Go by the Forest, a Russian antiwar organization that aims to help Russians avoid being mobilized to fight in Ukraine, but RFE/RL confirmed that at least one reservist was immediately sent to a training camp after reporting to update his information at a military office in Russia's Tyumen region in western Siberia.
The mailed documents require them to go to a nearby military office and confirm and update their personnel files and contact information. Russian legal experts and activists who spoke to RFE/RL believe this is part of a drive by the authorities to recruit new contract soldiers to fight in Ukraine and create an up to date database of reservists in anticipation of a potential new wave of mass mobilization like the one in September that sought to bring 300,000 new personnel into the fight.
"It's important to understand that sooner or later, [these summonses] will be used to mobilize the population," Aleksandr Pomazuyev, a lawyer that has been working on cases involving Russian military recruiting activities for the war in Ukraine, told RFE/RL. "Any clarification of data [or] additional information provided by [someone] to a military registration or enlistment office increases [the] chances of being mobilized and sent to the front."
A Coming Second Wave?
The new campaign comes as Russia aims to replenish and expand its ranks after suffering heavy casualties on the battlefield, particularly from grinding battles in eastern Ukraine.
According to reports by some Russian outlets and Bloomberg, which cited anonymous officials involved in Russian war planning, the Kremlin is seeking to sign up as many as 400,000 contract soldiers, who typically serve for three-year terms, this year.
The ambitious recruiting also coincides with Russia's spring conscription for military service on April 1 and could be part of attempts by the Kremlin to avoid another round of forced mobilization, which triggered a mass exodus of military age men and sparked backlash from the public.
The Kremlin has denied plans for a second wave of mobilization and regional offices have said the uptick in summonses is part of standard protocol to keep their information up to date.
Pomazuyev, however, believes that given the lower than expected number for new volunteers and the Kremlin's apparent determination to keep the war going, that another round is inevitable and the summons campaign is laying the groundwork for when that time comes.
"It's obvious that the Russian authorities intend to carry out the second stage of mobilization, since the losses in the war are [growing]," he said. "[Someone] might report to clarify their information, but that won't prevent the enlistment office from taking [them] to training camp or to the war."
That's why he says that his legal advice to Russians has always been "don't accept a summons and don't go to the enlistment office."
Pavel Chikov, a human rights lawyer who has been tracking the summonses campaign, told RFE/RL that particularly high numbers had been sent to Russian administrative areas in Altai, Krasnoyarsk, Omsk, Novosibirsk, Tyumen, and the Jewish Autonomous Region in the Far East.
He adds that their delivery is not evidence that a second mobilization wave is under way yet and are instead part of an effort to issue summonses to potential recruits to report to enlistment offices where they are then pitched -- and in some cases pressured -- to volunteer to fight in Ukraine.
A Recruitment Push
Tatyana, a resident of Tyumen who asked to have her last name withheld, told RFE/RL that a longtime friend of her husband who had served with him in the army reported to a local office after receiving a summons.
She says that the friend was confused, as he is 42 years old and left the military nearly two decades ago, but went to the enlistment office anyway. According to Tatyana, who shared a copy of his summons with RFE/RL, he was quickly sent away to military training after reporting and did not even receive a medical exam beforehand.
Recruitment efforts have also been under way at local colleges and universities.
Tatyana's son studies at the Tyumen College of Industrial and Social Technologies and says that a group of classmates -- all male students in their final year of studies -- were gathered by school staff to meet with military recruiters on campus who tried to sign them up as contract soldiers, which several students accepted.
Her son was not in attendance and afterward she consulted a lawyer on his behalf, who advised her son to avoid any such gatherings and to not sign anything. RFE/RL was not able to independently confirm this incident.
But similar stories are emerging elsewhere in Russia. In Novosibirsk, multiple students at the State Technical University complained to RFE/RL that summonses had been delivered to them and the university's administration confirmed to RFE/RL that 32 students out of a total campus population of 13,000 had received summonses.
In Yekaterinburg, students at Ural Federal University told RFE/RL that many of their classmates had begun to receive summonses in the mail. Many of the documents state they're required to report to an enlistment office to clarify personal information, which could ostensibly be tied to the approaching conscription deadline in April, but many fear that it will be used as an occasion to pressure them into signing a contract to fight in Ukraine.
Multiple students at Ural Federal University, who asked for their names to be withheld in order to protect them from reprisals, told RFE/RL that it had been commonplace for a military officer to be present when diplomas are issued to graduating students and only those that can prove to the officer that they responded to their summons and reported to an enlistment office are given their diplomas by staff.
Another student at Ural Medical University, who asked for his identity to be withheld, told RFE/RL that he did not plan to respond to the summons he received. "I already know that you can't trust our government with anything," he said. "If you give a finger, they'll bite off your elbow."
In another episode, Valery Kotelnikov, a local journalist working in Krasnoobsk, a city on the outskirts of Novosibirsk in Siberia, told RFE/RL that he was handed a summons immediately after he asked some "uncomfortable questions" of local officials at a public hearing about problems with an upcoming government project in the area.
He says that before he was able to leave the building he was approached by a woman from the local military enlistment office and was handed a summons that said he was required to report to his local office and clarify his personal details.
"In the end, they decided to use the ace up their sleeve to silence [me]," Kotelnikov said.