The black market to avoid Putin’s mobilization order is booming

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An avoidance market is emerging

Vladimir Putin’s military mobilization order caused a major outcry in Russia, ranging from demonstrations in several regions to around 700,000 Russians leaving the country in just over two weeks. Many Russian citizens, meanwhile, tried to avoid conscription by resorting to age-old tricks such as hiding with relatives or equipping themselves with fake documents.

Since September 21, when Putin’s partial mobilization was announced, Flashpoint analysts have observed a growing amount of chatter in Russian illicit communities and social media platforms about these methods. We also saw an underground market for fake certificates and other services to prevent the draft from emerging on various forums, including Telegram. The market seems to have really taken off around September 26, after rumors swirled that Russian authorities may be closing borders to prevent older men from fleeing the country. Although this did not happen, the authorities tried to make it harder for the men to leave Russia, even setting up recruitment offices near the border.

Graph showing the number of messages containing words associated with services to dodge the draft, including certificates, mobilization assistance, arrangement and postponement. (Breaking point)

These services build on existing phenomena of corruption and nepotism, but industrialize them in a way that simplifies and speeds up the process. Some of them are probably scams that rely on the widely held belief that bribes are an easy and reliable way to get out of the project. The services offered mirror a similar underground market for fake vaccination and COVID-19 test certificates that Flashpoint observed in 2021. Flashpoint observed this activity on a wide range of platforms that include chat platforms, illicit communities, and media social.

fake job

One type of service offered is fake employment contracts. A threat actor on two popular Russian-speaking forums explained that they are able to “employ” people at oil and gas facilities in Russia’s two oil-producing regions on fictitious contracts, which would automatically grant them postponement of mobilization due to the strategic nature of these industries. Depending on how quickly the certificate is needed and whether the applicant has professional qualifications, the service can cost up to 150,000 rubles (US$2,460), more than three times the average salary in the poorest regions of Russia. A similar service on another Russian-speaking forum costs 200,000-250,000 rubles, including bribes to be paid to officials.

Related Reading: ‘War Party’: How Russians Are Reacting to Putin’s Conscription Gamble

Diseases

Another popular way to avoid draft is to fake a chronic illness. The Russian Telegram groups where people opposed to the project congregate have shared lists of illnesses that would officially make men unfit to serve in the military. Threat actors have mobilized to offer fake certificates of chronic diseases such as HIV and hepatitis, relying on access to electronic health records, similar to fake vaccination certificates against COVID-19. Users of some forums have even specified the names of clinics and hospitals where they are able to support such requests, while another service has combined its offer with a forged letter from an anonymous Israeli clinic, which would allow the buyer to ostensibly leave the country. for medical treatment. The price of these services was usually quoted between 10,000 and 40,000 rubles ($165 and $660).

Image from a widely shared advertisement on Russian channels, offering three ways to avoid being redacted: HIV and hepatitis certificates and expedited passport issuance. (Breaking point).

Manual name removal

A simpler service is the removal of names from databases maintained by conscription offices, which often exist only on paper and not in digital form. The prices for these services are usually identical to the price of fake health certificates. Here’s what we’re seeing in terms of prices advertised on popular forums:

  • Deleting a name from the database: 25,000 rubles (410 USD)
  • Temporary adjournment: 20,000 – 30,000 rubles (330-490 US$)
  • Editorial office emergency “rescue”: 45,000 rubles (740 USD)
  • Complete deletion of all military records: 100,000 rubles (US$1,640)

Education

One of the reasons for the panic is that the mobilization does not seem partial, as officially announced, but extensive and, in places, random, where the officially announced exceptions – including for IT professionals – count for little or nothing. at all. Analysts have seen fewer offers related to fake higher education degrees, although according to a decree issued by Putin on September 24, certain categories of students are exempt from the project. This discrepancy may be due to the fact that Russian threat actors have accumulated more experience in falsifying health certificates. Nevertheless, Flashpoint analysts observed some offers. On a very active forum, one user offered five places at an unnamed university, starting at 150,000 rubles (US$2,460), while others shared a list of regions where they know the problem may be. “supported”.

Monitoring this emerging market provides information not only on the mood of Russian Internet users and the cyber underground in the face of growing domestic pressures, but also on the types of corruption that make it more difficult for the state to enforce its decisions in the country. A recent survey found that residents of poorer regions are significantly more affected than residents of wealthier regions where people generally have fewer means to defend themselves against state agents. In addition, the market also provides insight into the vulnerabilities of Russian state information systems that underpin these services.

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