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Russian-speaking actors offer unique perspectives on Putin's military mobilization

Oct 26, 2022
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With the Russian army reportedly experiencing heavy casualties in the war with Ukraine, the Kremlin is seemingly doubling down on its war commitment by expanding its number of conscripted troops. On September 21, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a so-called "partial" military mobilization in Russia, including summoning more than 300,000 people for military service, ostensibly to bolster their war effort.

By another name, this "partial" military mobilization is called "conscription," the state-mandated enlistment of people into a military or national service. Putin's signed order only called up military reservists with combat or service experience. However, Russian media reports have described attempts to round up men without relevant experience, including those ineligible for service due to medical reasons.

Underground forum chatter offers unique war mobilization perspectives

Following the mobilization announcement, Russian-speaking actors started numerous threads on a plethora of underground cybercrime forums to discuss the situation. Intel 471 reviewed the relevant chatter and documented the perspectives and reactions of underground actors regarding the mobilization. Some of the key points and anecdotal thoughts reveal:

  • Most Russian-speaking underground actors are not willing to join the army. However, some would go to the war with Ukraine if called up.

  • Civilians who participated in anti-mobilization protests were reportedly the first to be served call-up papers.

  • There was reportedly no medical examination for conscripts, including those with visible disabilities.

  • Despite official announcements, anyone allegedly could be drafted into the army, including employees working in critical infrastructure sectors (e.g., oil, utilities, etc.)

  • Actors assumed a classified section of the military mobilization order could summon more people, perhaps millions of Russians, for military service.

  • Underground actors suggested those subject to call-up should take defensive means by leaving the country or residing in a place different from their registration address. Other recommendations included buying fake IDs and avoiding using the Russian GosUslugi government information portal.

Actors find illegal avenues to help conscripts

Recognizing the dire situation, dozens of Russian-speaking actors capitalized on these trends and started offering services to help conscripts dodge military mobilization for a price, including:

  • Issuing fake HIV or hepatitis medical certificates

  • Providing fake entries to Russia's state HIV and hepatitis database (which, in theory, would disqualify candidates)

  • Making fake disability certificates

  • Creating illegitimate caregiver documents for dependents or disabled relatives

  • Issuing a military ID with special records claiming the person was not eligible for military service.

  • Arranging evacuation from Russia and Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries.

  • Offering so-called 'private methods' not disclosed publicly.

Specific offers made by actors to avoid conscription

Intel 471's research has highlighted the many conscription-avoidance offers made by Russian-speaking actors across underground forums. Some of the more credible examples are below. The names of rivers are used as monikers and they are not the actors' real handles. These offers include:

  • The actor Nile offered a private method to circumvent being called up for hundreds of thousands of dollars. However, the seller said their plan would not work for well-known individuals.

  • The actor Amazon posted an offer for official military ID with prices for it ranging from hundreds to thousands of US dollars.

  • The actor Yangtze offered to help avoid being mobilized for military service. They claimed their method was "fully legitimate and official," but it was available for only a limited number of people and would cost thousands of US dollars.

  • The actor Mississippi posted an offer for official HIV and hepatitis certificates, costing several hundred US dollars.

  • The actor Rhine posted an offer providing “emergency evacuation” from Russia or other CIS countries. Prices and conditions for relocation were reportedly available on a case-by-case basis.

With global events come underground opportunities

While it is impossible to know how many takers these offers got, young Russian men from all walks of life have left the country. In the wake of Putin's mobilization order, more than 194,000 Russian nationals fled to neighboring Georgia and Finland. So it is highly likely that law-abiding Russian men took advantage of some of these offers from Russian-speaking underground actors to escape.

Interestingly, in the face of a historical conflict, Russian-speaking actors stay true to their colors. They dislike the army but, if called, would apparently serve in the war because of their allegiance to the Russian state. But financially motivated underground actors are always just that, financially motivated, devising new ways to make a profit or invent a scheme to make money. In that sense, their skills easily transfer from cybercrime to one geopolitical event to another, in this case, war profiteering.