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Worse than the maximum sentence As Russian AWOL convictions spike, judges are effectively sending defendants back to war

Source: Meduza

In the first four months of 2023, Russian military courts heard 1,053 felony cases under the Criminal Code’s article against “unauthorized abandonment of a military unit,” which can carry a punishment of up to 10 years in prison. That’s more cases than in the entirety of 2022 (when courts heard 1,001 such cases), according to the independent outlet Mediazona, which took its data from the official websites of Russia’s military courts.

The majority of cases (992) that made it to court in the first part of 2023 were opened after Russia ramped up punishments for “crimes against military service” (which include insubordination, resisting a superior, abandoning one’s unit, desertion, and others) and began its “partial mobilization” campaign.

According to data from the Judicial Department at Russia’s Supreme Court, 1,083 people were convicted of “crimes against military service” in 2021, while the number rose to 1,379 in 2022.

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Mediazona’s journalists found that while about 100 cases of “military service” crimes were reaching Russian courts monthly by mid-2022, that number has since quadrupled: courts heard 441 such cases in March of 2023 and 435 cases in April. 80 percent of those cases were for “unauthorized abandonment.”

At the same time, a large portion of “unauthorized abandonment” cases end in probation sentences. This allows the authorities to send defendants back to war rather than to prison. Putin’s mobilization order explicitly bans the dismissal of convicted soldiers who aren’t given jail time.

Mediazona described a typical sentence issued in April 2023 by a military court in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk:

The court takes into consideration the unit commander’s request that the defendant receive a sentence not involving prison time so that he can be sent in due course to the special operation zone, where he will be able to prove his improvement through his actions and behavior.

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