Russia accuses Ukraine of orchestrating a phone scam scheme to trick elderly Russians into setting military recruitment offices on fire amid string of arson attacks

Russian conscripts at a local recruitment office, St. Petersburg, on May 20, 2020.

Photo by Sergey Nikolaev/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Russia accused Ukraine of inciting elderly Russians into attacks on military recruitment offices.
The country said Ukrainian fraudsters are scamming Russian elders by threatening their finances.
Russia offered no evidence of the alleged phone scam scheme and Ukraine has not yet responded to the allegations.

Russia is blaming Ukraine for a recent spate of arson attacks at military recruitment centers, accusing the country of overseeing a scheme to trick elderly Russian citizens into setting the offices on fire.

The Prosecutor General’s Office of Russia said Tuesday that Ukrainian fraudsters are calling up Russian elders and inciting them to set fire to military recruitment centers in the country by pretending to be police officers or bank employees and gaining access to their finances. 

The country offered no evidence of the alleged phone scam scheme and Ukraine has not yet responded to the allegations. 

More than three dozen military registration and enlistment offices have been attacked since the end of July, Russian independent news outlet Meduza reported. The Institute for the Study of War also noted in a July 31 update that Russian civilians were increasingly conducting arson attacks against enlistment offices in both Russia and occupied Ukraine. 

Several attacks on Russian recruitment centers have been documented since the country invaded Ukraine in February 2022. But the recent uptick in arson coincides with changes the Russian government recently made to the country’s conscription processes, including raising the age limit of possible draftees to broaden the pool of men eligible for military service amid the country’s mounting manpower problems in Ukraine. 

Russia, however, is ascribing the arson to Ukraine.

In a Tuesday statement, the Russian prosecutor general’s office said its citizens have received phone calls from Ukrainian agents pretending to be either bank employees or officers with Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB). The scammers start by alerting the Russian elder to suspicious banking activity, claiming to have either already stolen their money or be searching for the criminals who have robbed them. Some even directly threaten to harm or kill the elder’s relatives and friends, the Ministry of Internal Affairs alleged.

The scammers then demand that the elder set fire to a military, transport, or banking institution, the Russian agency said. The government said many of the Russians who have been arrested for arson said they only committed the act because they were promised the return of their stolen savings or believed they were helping Russia.

Russian state media reported that use of the scheme has exploded in just the last week, tying Ukraine’s alleged arson attempts to Russian military gains in Ukraine. The government noted that arson attacks carry up to 20 years in jail.

Last week, a 66-year-old grocery cashier was arrested after she was caught on camera using a Molotov cocktail to set fire to a military enlistment office in St. Petersburg. 

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