Tens of thousands have signed up for contract military service this year, former Russian president says

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Tens of thousands of people have signed up for professional service with the Russian military since the start of the year, state media quoted the country's former president as saying Sunday.

Citing the Defense Ministry, Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy head of the Russian Security Council, said that “about 280,000 people have been accepted into the ranks of the armed forces on contract service,” the state news agency Tass reported.

He clarified that some people were on reserve, while others were volunteers, the agency said.

NBC News could not independently verify his claim. Last year, Russia announced a plan to expand its combat personnel by more than 30%, to 1.5 million.

President Vladimir Putin ordered a “partial mobilization” of 300,000 reservists last September, prompting hundreds of thousands of others to flee Russia to avoid being sent to the war in Ukraine.

He has since said there is no need for any more people to be drafted, although in July, Russia extended conscription for compulsory military service from age 27 to 30, increasing the number of men obliged to serve in the army for a year at any one time.

The number of deaths Russia has suffered in what the Kremlin terms its “special military operation” in Ukraine is a closely guarded secret. A White House assessment in May estimated there had been 100,000 Russian casualties, with 20,000 killed.

Britain’s Defense Ministry said in an intelligence briefing Sunday that Uzbek migrant builders in the Russian-controlled Ukrainian city of Mariupol “have reportedly had their passports confiscated upon arrival and been coerced to join the Russian military.”

The daily update posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, added that Russia had “been appealing to citizens of neighbouring countries with recruitment adverts for individuals to fight in Ukraine” since late June.

"Online adverts have been observed in Armenia and Kazakhstan," it said, adding that some of them had been designed to appeal to Kazakhstan's ethnic Russian population.

The briefing added that the recruitment drive was probably an attempt “to avoid further unpopular domestic mobilisation measures in the run up to the 2024 presidential elections.”

Around 6 million migrants from Central Asia — primarily from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan — are believed to live in Russia. Rights groups have said the imported labor force is frequently subjected to discrimination, stigmatization, hate crimes and police brutality.

Inside Ukraine, the country's military has said it has made gains on the front line in the southeast, a rare success as the slow-moving counteroffensive against well-defended Russian troops grinds on.

Brig. Gen. Oleksandr Tarnavskiy told The Observer newspaper in Britain that his troops had decisively breached Russia’s first defensive line near the city of Zaporizhzhia.

After weeks of mine clearances, he said, “we are now between the first and second defensive lines.” He added that Russia was “pulling up reserves, not only from Ukraine but also from Russia,” and as a result would “run out of all the best soldiers.”

Video that circulated online last week and was geolocated by NBC News also appeared to show Ukrainian forces fighting near Verbove, a village just over the front line.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com