Mobilisation gets dodgy

Forged HIV certificates, conscription database manipulations, escaping to Belarus: how Russians dodge draft using darknet

Mobilisation gets dodgy
Photo: Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The second wave of mobilisation has started in Russia; authorities in the regions of Rostov, Kursk, Voronezh, and Udmurtia have already announced this. The federal government deny the “second wave” terminology, but admit that additional draft is inevitable. Meanwhile, a new sort of black market helping Russians dodge the draft is flourishing. Many thousands of advertisements have started to appear on Telegram and designated forums since 21 September, the day Vladimir Putin announced mobilisation. Those include running through the border service database, assistance in illegally crossing the Russian border, and formal employment at IT companies that provide exemption from military duty. Novaya Gazeta. Europe has analysed the advertisements and contacted the people who offer their services in avoiding mobilisation — in exchange for money.


We do not recommend any of our readers to use the services below. Many of the advertisements do not actually provide any services: scammers are using people’s panic and haste to make millions in profits.

Moreover, attempting to dodge the draft may be subject to criminal liability in Russia. The Article 328 of the country’s criminal code says that people avoiding military conscription may face 200,000 rubles (€3,200) worth of fines or up to two years behind bars. No people have been sentenced to prison time as of yet, but anyone doing so is at risk.

Various years-old shady schemes of forging documents went into overdrive immediately after mobilisation was announced in Russia. Such services include: express processing of passports and forging of C or D category military cards which make the holders ineligible for military service due to health issues, as well as forging of all sorts of medical certificates. Since 25 September, a massive number of advertisements offering new strategies of assistance in dodging the draft have started to appear online.

We have picked out eight types of services the black market has to offer, with the price range between 4,000 and 450,000 rubles (€64-7200) and spoke to the people who provide such services. Those are not all the ways to dodge the draft one can find. You will learn about the most “exclusive” and expensive ones at the end of this article.

Running through the database

Since the very start of the mobilisation, dozens of advertisements offering to search for any individual’s name inside the border service database have started to appear on Telegram and various forums. The database uses data from the conscription offices. If a person is trying to cross the border and their name is in the database, the border service officer does not grant them permission to leave and gives them a special notice limiting their right to leave the country.

It is unknown how many Russians are in the database. Those who offer this service say that there is no unified database of people subject to mobilisation on the market. They use their contacts in the border service to learn about the status of every single person interested. You can find out more about how the scheme works here.

The price range for learning one’s status is between 4,000 and 15,000 rubles (€64-240), and the waiting time is about one or two days. However, it is not certain that each enquiry is indeed being searched through the database and not being made up. “There is no guarantee, of course, you do it at your own risk and peril,” the people offering the service say.

Forged sick notes

“It is better to be on the list of the HIV-infected than on the list of those missing in action.” This here is the slogan used for advertising forged medical certificates proving that an individual is infected with HIV or B/C type hepatitis. The option is among the most popular ones.

Various forum users offer forged and backdated HIV-positive certificates and claim that they can put one’s name into the federal register of HIV- or hepatitis-infected individuals. About 650 ads of this type were posted on Telegram between 1 October and 6 October. The price range is between 12,000 and 55,000 rubles (€192-880).

The shady dealers promise that such a certificate would at least help win some time as conscription offices might send a conscript for additional medical examination or let go of him completely.

However, there is no guarantee that a certificate would help as HIV-infected people are still sent in the battle zone. Pavel Chikov of Agora, a human rights group, mentions several cases:

  • The Yekaterinburg region: “My brother’s 38, he is HIV-positive. The draft officer asked him as they spoke on the phone: ‘Why do you even care where to drop dead?’”
  • Saint Petersburg: “I have stage 4C of HIV. The draft office did not even look at my hospital reports and other medical documents.”

Moreover, a certificate proving one’s HIV-positive status is not enough to be recognised as unfit for military service. In fact, it is required to undergo lengthy medical screenings and acquire a certificate from a state-approved HIV centre with the disease stage written on it.

Using a fake document granting rights or relieving from duties means up to one year in prison as per article 327 of Russian Criminal Code.

Draft card “cancellation”

As per TGStat, a total of nearly 79,000 advertisements offering the “cancellation” of draft notices or removing the individual’s name from conscription databases have been published on Telegram since 21 September; most ads of this type were published between 25 and 30 September. The peak day was 26 September when 25.8 thousand ads were published. The price range is between 7,500 and 30,000 rubles (€120-480).

Novaya Gazeta. Europe has spoken to four individuals offering such services. Two of them said they have access to some unified conscription database where they mark their clients as unfit for military services. It is most likely that all such ads are a sham since there is no unified database with data from all military offices across the country as of now.

One more person we spoke to offered us to forge health category D (temporarily unfit for military service) in some police database, as well as the non-existent “military database.”

A screenshot of a conversation with a person offering the “cancellation” of draft notices

Finally, one more person we spoke to promised us to grant draft determent using an ages-old method of simulating a mental disease.

The most expensive ways to dodge draft

Various “exclusive” methods of receiving draft deferment or exemption from military duty include:

  • Enrolling at a college in Ural for one year. Full-time education, but attendance is not required. Price: 250,000 rubles (€4,000).
  • Enrolling at a bachelor’s programme at a state college in Moscow: 1 million rubles (€16,000). It is possible to pass an exam here and receive an education certificate.
  • Employment at a “major IT company” with an office in the Moscow International Business Centre: 2 million rubles (€32,000); the price includes a forged certificate of higher education. “There’s no need to actually appear at the office, it’s a complete formality,” the forger says.

One of the most bizarre advertisements offers crossing the Russian border with Belarus by illegal means, bypassing all border checkpoints.

Proposal of illegal departure from Russia to Belarus

Proposal of illegal departure from Russia to Belarus

Our contact offers us to illegally transport a person to Belarus for $2,000

Undoubtedly, using such services is a great deal of risk: there are several stories of deceived draft dodgers online. One of the forgers offered “employment at a strategic facility” in Yamalia or Khantia-Mansia for 200,000 rubles (€3,200), but the draft dodgers were hung out dry.

Another “problem solver” was offering “legal evacuation from Russia”. But suddenly disappeared from the forum.

“Attempting to dodge draft by bribery and forgery is petty corruption,” says Grigory Mashanov, a senior lawyer for Transparency International Russia. “The government managed to decrease the levels of petty corruption in the late 2000s and early 2010s by setting up Multifunctional Public Services Centres and a state services website. However, the positive effect of those changes will be largely levelled out now. Russia’s authorities created a large corruption market from scratch by declaring mobilisation.”

If this market expands to other domains of daily life, Russia’s citizens will once again face red tape indignity and bribe solicitation at various locations such as hospitals, roads, and border checkpoints. The tampering of customs officers and the police will increase the levels of smuggling and organised crime. Meanwhile, the red tape machine now busy with drafting hundreds of thousands of people will not be able to cope with its internal corruption, Mashanov says.

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