Rise in Attempted Arson Attacks on Military Registration Offices in Russia: Uncovering the Blackmail Scheme

2023-08-03 17:30:00

In late July-early August, there were at least 28 attempts to set fire to military registration and enlistment offices in Russia. More than half of them were committed by Russians over 50 years old. After the arrest, they said that they had become victims of telephone scammers. Strangers, who introduced themselves as bank employees or security officials, forced them to throw Molotov cocktails at local military commissariats and promised to return the stolen money or cancel their debts. Meduza reveals what is known about this method of blackmail.

In late July-early August, there were at least 28 attempts to set fire to military registration and enlistment offices in Russia. More than half of them were committed by Russians over 50 years old. After the arrest, they said that they had become victims of telephone scammers. Strangers, who introduced themselves as bank employees or security officials, forced them to throw Molotov cocktails at local military commissariats and promised to return the stolen money or cancel their debts. Meduza reveals what is known about this method of blackmail.

At the end of July, the SHOT telegram channel informed about an attempt to set fire to a military registration and enlistment office in Feodosia: a 51-year-old teacher of Russian language and literature approached the building of the military commissariat, took out a Molotov cocktail from her bag and threw it towards the doors. The Crimean girl missed, but the commissariat officers managed to detain the teacher.

On the same day about this case told telegram channel Baza: the name of a Crimean woman appeared in the post, the first letter of her last name and a photograph in which one could see a brunette in a yellow dress with a string of large pearls around her neck and red manicure. The woman’s face was blurred, but city publics very quickly deanonymized her. Local media figured outthat the person involved in this case was distinguished from many previous arsonists of military registration and enlistment offices by one detail: she not only did not oppose the war, but even supported the Russian military. Together with her husband, they “collected humanitarian aid for Russian servicemen.” According to the Baza telegram channel, a Crimean woman decided to set fire to the commissariat on the instructions of a certain “curator”.

After that, messages about new cases began to appear in Telegram channels: Russians from different regions tried to set fire to the military registration and enlistment offices, while none of them made anti-war statements. Since July 29, there have been at least 28 such incidents. By counting publications “Layout”, most often with Molotov cocktails, women went to the military commissariats – among the attackers there were twice as many as men. Half of the “arsonists” identified by the investigation are people over 50 years old.

Almost all those who threw incendiary mixtures at the military commissariats admitted after being detained that they acted on the instructions of strangers. So, 76-year-old Severodvinsk told investigators that a certain “Ukrainian curator” contacted him and demanded to set fire to the military registration and enlistment office in order to “punish” the people who were there, who allegedly “participate in treason.” However, the building was not damaged in the end – only the grass next to the military registration and enlistment office caught fire. It was extinguished by a police officer guarding the facility.

In Kazan, one of the military commissariats set fire to 62-year-old woman: according to her, she did it so that “her daughter would not have problems,” and the task was given to her by people who introduced themselves by phone as FSB officers. According to According to local media sources, the pensioner was blackmailed with the murder of her daughter if she did not agree to set fire to the military registration and enlistment office. The building was not seriously damaged – the flames engulfed only a small part of the wall from the outside, the fire was quickly extinguished.

In St. Petersburg, the military registration and enlistment office tried set fire to a 53-year-old man. A man who introduced himself as a bank security officer promised the Petersburger to write off his loans if he helped the “FSB officers” to identify fraudsters who allegedly work in the military registration and enlistment office. According to Fontanka, the “security officer” suggested that the Petersburger set fire to the rear commissariat in order to divert the attention of his employees, while the “FSB” at that time “would seize the documents they need.” Petersburger twice threw Molotov cocktails at the door of the building, but both times the fire was quickly extinguished.

Military Commissariat in Volgograd was going to set fire to the 82-year-old head of the district branch of the Children of Military Stalingrad organization, but did not have time to do this – the security forces detained the pensioner even before she could throw a Molotov cocktail into the building.

As Arseniy, a family member of one of the Russians detained for attempting to set fire to the military registration and enlistment office, told Meduza, the attackers contacted his relative over a year ago and, posing as employees of the Central Bank and investigators, several times forced the pensioner to transfer money from his account to them. They said that in one of the branches of the bank a certain person, who allegedly has the documents of a pensioner in his hands, plans to withdraw a large amount from his account. According to those who called, this could only be prevented if the pensioner himself transferred the funds to a special account.

“Everyone knew about such fraud schemes, they read it many times,” says Arseniy. “But when a pensioner is told that the information he is being told is ‘strictly confidential’ and ‘if you divulge it, you will be prosecuted’, he believes it and forgets everything he has read before.”

According to Arseniy, when he learned from a relative that all his savings had been stolen from him by deceit, he advised him to write a statement to the police. There it turned out that the accounts to which the relative transferred money were opened for fake documents and the funds had already been withdrawn from them.

At the end of July, the pensioner received a call again. “We will refund your money if you take certain actions necessary for our country [России]. Now we will dictate to you a set of actions that you must do, ”Arseniy retells the words of the caller, who this time introduced himself as an investigator. After a relative of Arseniy, on the instructions of the “investigator”, set fire to the military registration and enlistment office, he was detained.

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According to counting “Mediazones”, at least seven Russians who tried to set fire to military registration and enlistment offices in late July – early August, are charged with article 167 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation “Deliberate destruction or damage to property.” It is punishable by up to five years in prison. Two more have been charged with hooliganism – they face up to eight years in prison; two are under investigation in cases of committing terrorist attack. The maximum penalty under this article is 20 years in prison.

Not only elderly people became victims of blackmailers: it is known, for example, that two arson of military registration and enlistment offices in Kazan committed 30- and 23-year-old Russians. In Omsk, the building of the military commissariat tried to set fire 21-year-old student, in Podolsk – 22-year-old employee fast food restaurant. In the village of Aginskoye, Trans-Baikal Territory, a Molotov cocktail was sent to the building of the local military registration and enlistment office threw minor. Meduza studied the accounts of these people on social networks and did not see any anti-war slogans or subscriptions to opposition or pro-Ukrainian pages in them.

The Kremlin has not yet commented on cases of blackmailing Russians, but in one of the regional departments of the FSB reportedthat the Russians were “pushed to commit crimes of a terrorist nature”, but they were assured that mass arsons of military registration and enlistment offices in the region had been avoided.

Incidents with arson of military registration and enlistment offices under the pressure of fraudsters have happened before: according to Mediazones, from February 2022 to April 2023, at least seven Russians tried to set fire to the buildings of the military commissariats after provocation by calls from unknown people. Seven more times, Russians, under the pressure of unknown calls, threw Molotov cocktails at bank branches and ATMs, once at police stationanother one in automobile Defense Ministry official. In total, since the beginning of the war, according to the estimates of the publication, happened more than 110 attacks on military registration and enlistment offices.

Svetlana Reiter and other authors of Meduza

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