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Drafting the defenseless A military lawyer discusses Russia’s newly amended conscription law and gives his best advice to draft-eligible men who don’t want to join the army
Russia’s State Duma has passed a set of amendments that will make it much harder for Russia’s pacifists and those who don’t want to join the military to evade the draft. Once the amendments are signed into law by the president, summonses will be published and delivered electronically; people who are subject to army service will not be able to leave Russia; and draft evaders will be barred from driving a vehicle, buying and selling real estate, and applying for credit. A unified digital register will give the draft officials access to personal data on potential conscripts. Meduza spoke about these changes with a military attorney and member of the Russian Human Rights Advocates’ Coalition for Conscientious Objection to Military Service. Our source chose to remain anonymous for the sake of personal safety, but Meduza is confident of his qualifications. Here’s a summary of the legal situation as it now confronts the draft-eligible Russians.
Defenseless against the draft
The new amendment package to Russia’s draft law has four segments, covering the following areas:
- Digitization of military records
- Appeals of draft commission decisions
- Establishing a unified register of draft summonses
- Contract military service
The new law prescribes the creation of a unified register in which active summonses will be recorded. The register is to be maintained by the Defense Ministry, but the details of how it will operate will have to be worked out after the new legislation comes into effect.
The amendments repeal the former guarantee that the state would provide a public defender for any case involving violations of the draft law. Previously, any draft decision would be automatically suspended if appealed. The new legislation is getting rid of this provision. Now, even if you’re in process of appealing a draft decision in court or with a higher-level military authority, the decision itself will remain in force during the appeal.
In the past, if a person was apprehended in the street and delivered to a draft office, he himself or even his proxy would have been able to object to the draft officials’ actions on the very same day. This important provision protected people from arbitrariness and from abuses of power by the draft officers. This legal instrument is now being taken away.
It’s still possible to appeal a draft commission’s decision, but it wouldn’t be a reliable defense against being sent off to the army barracks. A court still has the power to suspend the execution of a draft decision, but it can also dismiss the motion to suspend it, or simply take too long in considering it. As a result, a person who might be ineligible for army service for medical or other reasons would have to join the army even in process of appealing the conscription.
Shifting the burden of compliance and making draft evasion harder
If a person has been summoned to the draft office and doesn’t report for duty in 20 days, he is going to be barred from doing things like registering as an independent contractor, working as a self-employed professional, applying for credit, driving a vehicle, or registering a car title. The new law also vests Russia’s regional authorities with additional powers to introduce further limitations. They can, for example, suspend subsidy payments to draft-eligible orphans until they report to the draft office. This signals that the state may ultimately move towards adopting essentially fascist policies.
A military summons is officially considered delivered seven days after its publication in the unified draft register, regardless of whether it had been sent electronically through the state service portal (“Gosuslugi”) or delivered in person. At this point, its recipient is barred from leaving the country. People subject to military duty are also expected to keep an eye on the register themselves, and if they miss the draft notice, it’s their own problem.
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Taking away the citizens’ legal tools
For now, the State Duma has passed the amendments in the third reading. To take effect, they have to be signed by the president. What’s unclear is when the provisions regarding the unified register will become effective, given that the register itself is yet to be created and launched.
The point of the new legislation is to render the citizens even more defenseless before the arbitrary power of the draft offices, and to simplify the procedures of seasonal conscription, contract recruitment, and mobilization. A new round of mobilization is likely just a matter of time.
As an example of what these changes mean in practice, a person can now be registered in the military reserves in absentia. Until now, he had to report to the draft office, go through a medical exam, and receive a copy of the decision about his eligibility for service. This procedure has been waived.
With respect to contract service, the amendments are geared towards enabling the authorities to conduct mass conscriptions. According to some unverified data, Russia’s armed forces are planning to recruit 400,000 new contract soldiers by the end of the year. Any citizen will now be able to sign a contract with the army, even if he has no training, and even if he isn’t in the army reserve. The same law waves the former scruples about mandatory-term conscripts: in the past, they could only sign a contract three months after completing their initial tour of duty. Now this stipulation is gone.
Finally, the amended law will deprive citizens of the legal tools they need to appeal the draft commission’s decisions and to defend their right to deferral or exemption.
Emigration and legal options for those who stay
Leaving the country is a fairly reliable way to evade the draft, but this is a highly personal decision, and we cannot expect hundreds of thousands of people to stand ready to leave the country. What’s important is that advising people to leave Russia as the only possible defense against the draft disempowers those for whom leaving is not an option. It creates an impression that there are no other methods for defending one’s rights.
People who remain in the country need to realize that they have a right not to go to war, and they have various available grounds for deferrals, medical exemptions, or alternative service. They will have to advocate for those rights by all available legal means, and even through nonviolent resistance if need be.
Your rights are not handed down to you: you have to take hold of them yourself. The authorities are creating the conditions that will make this harder. But some possibilities for self-advocacy still remain. Students are eligible for conscription deferrals. Medical exemptions from the draft are still in place. Citizens can prove their incapacity to serve in the army based on the results of a physical.
One good option, for example, is to apply for alternative civilian service. Even if this application is denied, you can appeal that decision, and, for the duration of the appeal process, the execution of the draft order will have to be suspended. Fortunately, alternative service law has not been affected by the amendments that changed the rules of appeal in other areas.
People subject to conscription will have to advocate for their rights and interests. They will have to be assertive in demanding a deferral or an alternative civilian assignment. If you go to the draft office, know your rights by heart; but if you don’t feel you have the strength to advocate for yourself in front of the draft officers, your remaining options are to leave the country or disappear, in full knowledge of the obstacles and penalties the new law has in store for people like yourself.
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