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  • By Laurence Peter
  • BBC News

Image caption,

Russian army recruits in Simferopol, Crimea

Russia has blamed Ukraine for a spate of arson attacks on military recruitment centres, alleging that callers in Ukraine are tricking elderly Russians into committing such crimes.

The claim is not backed by evidence.

The prosecutor-general’s office says Ukrainian agents posed as police or creditors in the calls and incited Russians to attack the centres in return for promises to settle debts.

Some Russians were allegedly promised the recovery of their stolen savings.

In that alleged scam, the victims were told that criminals had accessed their savings but they would get their money back if they attacked a recruitment centre.

Sometimes the victims were also assured that such an attack would help apprehend the criminals.

Prosecutors said the phone calls were made on a mass scale and coincided with Russian advances on the Ukrainian front.

In its statement on the alleged scams, Russia’s interior ministry stressed that attacks on military recruitment centres are punishable by up to 20 years in jail.

If true, Russia’s allegations, ironically, read as a massive compliment to the prowess of Ukrainian intelligence agents, BBC Europe specialist Alexander Schlichter says.

Ukrainian authorities have not yet responded to the Russian accusation.

Since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 there have been many such arson attacks in Russia.

But they have increased in recent weeks, coinciding with a new mass recruitment drive involving a huge official advertising campaign.

Russia’s Vedomosti news daily quotes a hardline nationalist MP, Sergei Mironov, as saying 25 attacks on the centres were attempted just on 1 and 2 August.

Mr Mironov has written to defence minister Sergei Shoigu arguing that the Ukrainian call centres identified in the scams are now legitimate targets for the Russian military.

Before the change, all healthy men in Russia aged between 18 and 27 had to serve one year of compulsory military service. Now the upper age limit is 30.

Image caption,

“Our profession is defending the motherland” – a mobile army recruitment office in Moscow

Between 1 January and 3 August 231,000 extra soldiers were recruited into the army, former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said, citing defence ministry figures.

Last September President Vladimir Putin launched a “partial” mass mobilisation – a move that alarmed many Russians, pushing thousands of eligible men to leave the country.

Recent arson attacks on recruitment centres, reported by Russian media but not verified by the BBC, include the following:

  • On 29 July in Severodvinsk, in Russia’s Arctic north, a 76-year-old pensioner tried to set an army recruitment centre ablaze, but his Molotov cocktail hit the wall without igniting
  • On the same day in Kazan, a Volga River city east of Moscow, a retired doctor paid a large sum to a conman who posed as a Federal Security Service (FSB) officer. The conman then told her to burn a recruitment centre, threatening to kill her daughter if she failed to do so
  • In Feodosia, Russian-occupied Crimea, a school teacher aged 51 was arrested on 30 July after a Molotov cocktail had been thrown at a recruitment centre. She said she had been instructed by a contact on the Telegram messaging service
  • On 31 July in Podolsk, a city just south of Moscow, a recruitment centre was twice targeted by arsonists: first by a 76-year-old man and his son aged 50, who had allegedly been scammed by fraudsters in a phone call; then by a 22-year-old catering manager who had also been targeted by phone scammers allegedly offering to return stolen money.

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