- At least 16 Russians have been tricked into attempting arson on government buildings and cars.
- They were told by scammers to chuck Molotov cocktails, but most were unsuccessful, per local media.
- Some were told to shout Ukrainian slogans, though they believed they were helping Russia’s military.
Russian pensioners are being tricked into tossing Molotov cocktails at Russian military offices and officials’ cars, according to local media outlets.
Since the war in Ukraine began, Russian citizens have carried out at least 16 separate arson attempts on government or bank properties at the behest of scammers, reported the independent Russian media outlet, MediaZona.
The people involved have tried to set fire to enlistment offices, bank ATMs, a car trunk, and a police department, though most have been unsuccessful, the outlet reported. At least 11 of them were over 55, per MediaZona.
Some of them, like the 65-year-old Yelena Belova, were told to shout pro-Ukrainian slogans as they chucked the Molotov cocktails — even though they were also told they were helping the Russian military.
The Russian police detained Belova in August after she set fire to the trunk of a deputy army chief’s car, per the independent Russian news outlet Shot.
“Azov is power!” Belova shouted as she threw the Molotovs, Shot reported. The Azov Battalion is a far-right paramilitary force in Ukraine, and praising the organization is banned in Russia.
According to independent outlet Baza, an unknown person had called Belova and convinced her she would be enlisted in a “special operation.”
The caller persuaded her to send them large sums of cash, then told her to carry out the arson attempt as part of her mission, the outlet wrote.
Upon her arrest, Belova told police she supported the war in Ukraine and would never have set fire to the car if she knew it belonged to a military commander, Baza reported.
Would-be arsonists receive scam calls first
Another would-be arsonist, a 67-year-old woman identified only as Olga, tried to light two Molotov cocktails on March 27 and throw them into an enlistment office in the city of Nizhny Tagil, according to Shot.
But she was stopped by a policeman, Shot reported. Olga told authorities an unknown man had been calling her for a month, saying he was a bank employee.
He’d taught Olga how to create the Molotov cocktails and instructed her to start a fire in the government building, according to Shot.
When police confronted Olga, she called the fraudster, who tried to convince her that they were false agents, according to a video posted by the Russian Telegram channel Ural Mash.
“Try to hide now, what are you doing there? Have you been released or are you still being held?” the man asked Olga.
“No. They’re holding me. We’re standing on the street where they stopped me,” Olga told the man on the phone.
The man asked Olga if there were any bottles left for her to throw or if she still had a lighter.
“No,” she told him.
Local outlet E1.Ru reported that Olga had just lost her son to cancer, and the scammers had persuaded her to sell her apartment and take out loans.
Most of the arson attempts were carried out by senior citizens, who wouldn’t even try to escape capture afterward, MediaZona reported.
They include 70-year-old Alexandar Rassokhin, who lit a Molotov cocktail and placed it on the window of an enlistment office, and a 71-year-old woman who set fire to the carpet at a bank branch in St. Petersburg, per MediaZona.
The 71-year-old woman, who was not named, called someone on the phone after her attack in October. “I completed the task. Take me away from here,” she told the other person on the line, per St. Petersburg news outlet Fontanka.
Others had money stolen from their accounts and were told they would only see the cash again if they threw Molotov cocktails at certain government buildings, Shot reported.
Russia’s Federal Service Service issued a warning in December about the scam calls. The department blamed Ukraine for the calls without providing evidence or substantiation for the claim.
Scammers have been convincing “gullible citizens to commit arson of social infrastructure facilities, as well as cars in crowded places,” the department said in a press release.
Most of these would-be arsonists were told they were part of an operation to catch criminals, the department said.
The press department for the Russian government did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment sent outside regular business hours.