17 April 2023
by Ilya Shablinsky – legal expert and member of th Moscow Helsinki Group
In Russia, the State Duma passed amendments to the law on conscription and military service as well as a number of other laws. The main point of these amendments is that ‘citizens liable for military service’ (previously, the wording was different: ‘citizens not in the reserve’) receive summonses in writing, which are duplicated in electronically. The electronic summons is considered served from the moment it is placed in the citizen’s personal account in the ‘Government Services’ [Gosuslugi] online system.
Such a nice service. It will not matter whether the citizen has opened this page online or whether he has an account in ‘Gosuslugi’ at all. According to the text of the law, the summons is considered served as soon as it is sent. Information about its dispatch will be placed in the military registration register, which is also created by this law.
The point of these innovations is that a citizen, i.e. a man of conscription age, can never be considered not to have received a summons. He may not even know about it, but it will be recorded in the mentioned register that he has already received a summons and has not presented himself at the enlistment office. Failure of such a man to appear without a valid reason for a summons to the military enlistment office within 20 days brings with it the imposition of special measures. For example: a ban on registering as an individual entrepreneur, refusal of credit, suspension of real estate transactions, restrictions on driving vehicles – that is, in reality, a ban on the use of a car. Well, the refusal of credit is a hint at what category of citizens the authorities want to target first and foremost. But the ban on driving a car is something very special. The history of the last century knows only two cases in which citizens were forbidden to drive cars in principle. These are Nazi Germany from 1936, when the ban was imposed on all citizens of Jewish origin. And Saudi Arabia, where, until recently, women were forbidden by law to drive. Let us stress: we are talking about complete bans, not related to the observance of traffic rules.
Let us try to separate the technical from the political and legal aspects of this measure. On the technical side, counting potential servicemen with the help of modern digital systems is, in general, commonplace in a modern state with a large army. We can find a similar, digitally based accounting system in Switzerland, for example, which has a considerable army.
On the political and legal side, the use of these technologies by a totalitarian state in a war is a simplification and rationalization of the process of subjugating a large part of the population before sending it to the slaughter. The amendments were adopted by the State Duma almost immediately, and effectively with no debate (on the initiative of the chair of the parliamentary committee). Timid attempts by several deputies from the Communist Party to discuss some of the amendments in more detail were thwarted by the speaker of the chamber. The speaker suggested that supporters of the discussion should be immediately sent to the front.
It should be noted that the bans and restrictions that will follow any evasion of the call-up summons clearly contradict a specific norm of the first part of Article 34 of the Russian Constitution. According to this norm, ‘everyone has the right to free use of their abilities and property for entrepreneurial and other activities not prohibited by law.’ Registering as a sole proprietor or driving a car are just such free uses of one’s abilities and property that the law now bans. Yes, those from the State Duma in favour of banning things usually refer to the fact that another article of the Constitution – Article 55 – allows the restriction of a number of rights in order to protect the country’s defence capabilities. But these very rights, the free use of one’s abilities and property, cannot be restricted under any circumstances: this is what the third part of Article 56 of the Constitution says.
The amendments, as you know, constituted a whole package. Among other things, it means that the law on road safety changes: the patrol officers from the State Traffic Safety Inspectorate, who will stop those evading the draft, will have more work and, obviously, their income will increase sharply. The law on entry and exit from the country now prohibits those who have received electronic summons from leaving the country. So on and so forth.
The lower house (or rather, the group of gentlemen from the administration of President Putin who manipulate it, apparently in accordance with Putin’s will) also took the next step down a dismal ladder. On 12 April, the Council of the State Duma decided to return the bill on removing the death penalty from the Criminal Code to its authors, that is, to withdraw it from consideration. The bill was introduced back in 2001, and now, of course, has turned out to be completely irrelevant. The fact is that a particular bill usually cannot be considered by the Duma if another bill on the same topic has already been introduced. It seems likely that a new legislative initiative on the death penalty is being prepared in the Duma. Nowadays the death penalty is one of the punishments provided for in the Criminal Code, but it is not applied in Russia because of the moratorium established by the Constitutional Court. It is this provision, judging by various signs, that they want to remove. And here we need to recall some other initiatives. The chair of the Just Russia party Sergei Mironov has already argued for the need to abolish the moratorium, and recently sent a letter to the head of the Constitutional Court to this effect. This initiative was also supported by Leonid Slutsky, head of the Liberal Democratic Party.
So here we see these lively supporters of bullets in the back of the head.
One other journalist has been arrested and sent to prison, too. Roman Ivanov, a RusNews correspondent and author for the “Honest Korolev!” Telegram channel, was remanded in custody for two months by the Korolev City Court in the Moscow Region. As usual, he was accused of “spreading false information” about the Russian army. This was specifically about facts that the whole world considers true and horrifying: the murders of inhabitants in Bucha outside Kyiv, which the journalist wrote about on his Telegram channel in April 2022. The journalist has been charged for two other posts on his Telegram channel, one post in the public “Honest Korolev!” and one post on Vkontakte.
Roman’s wife recounted (there’s a video) how his apartment was broken into at six in the morning. Moreover, they started battering the door right away, not waiting for the frightened woman to reply. After all, you’d like to know who might be ringing your doorbell at that early hour, wouldn’t you? The men who came were dressed like gas line workers. But they broke down the door in two goes, damaging the wall. Obviously, they liked their job.
In recent days many comments have been prompted by the publication in a number of media of a series of materials from secret intelligence and US Defence Ministry documents. These materials talk about the condition of the armies of Ukraine and Russia and about Ukraine’s relations with its allies. Such instances are usually called leaks and the specific perpetrators are found. After a little while, the Americans found this perpetrator, a specific employee. What seems strange about the leaked information? There are no facts there that could be considered strategically important, like the dates or directions of a possible counteroffensive by Ukraine’s army. But there is quite a bit of information attesting to the less than wonderful condition of the Ukrainian armed forces. The published materials include detailed maps of military actions in Ukraine and secret satellite photos of the aftermath of Russian missile strikes on the Ukrainian energy infrastructure. There is mention of the estimated losses of the Ukrainian and Russian armies. Unofficially, the United States has recognized these materials as “genuine.”
Some experts are asking themselves whether this “leak” was an American disinformation operation against the enemy (that is, the Kremlin) specifically because based on these documents one might draw a conclusion about the Ukrainian army’s inability to conduct a large-scale offensive operation in the near future. Obviously it doesn’t have the necessary military equipment. But nearly all the published documents are dated either late February or early March of this year. It’s easy to suppose that at that moment in time Ukraine’s army was definitely not prepared for any kind of offensive. Information like that could scarcely have had any influence on the Russian General Staff’s positions.
Sometimes a leak is just a leak.
The head of the so-called “Wagner private military company [PMC]” wrote a programmatic article that he published on his blog on Telegram. Here’s an excerpt from it that gives the gist of it and its author: “We have ground down a huge number of VSU [Ukrainian armed forces] fighters and can report that the SVO [special military operation] missions have been completed. Theoretically, Russia has already ticked off this bullet point by destroying a large part of Ukraine’s active male population and by frightening its other part, which has fled to Europe. Russia has cut off the Azov Sea and a large portion of the Black Sea, seized a substantial piece of Ukraine’s territory, and created a land corridor to Crimea. Now there is only one thing left: to consolidate our death grip and sink our claws into those territories we already have…”
And so, the PMC head proposes declaring the SVO’s goals reached, that is, without prevaricating, admitting that the goal was to seize close-lying Ukrainian territories. And also to destroy Ukrainian men. There you have it. Short and sweet. Z-patriots have to like it.
True, Prigozhin has admitted through clenched teeth that the Russian army doesn’t have the forces for any other offensive actions. And this is an important admission. Prigozhin truly knows better. Although, the Z-patriot sect might categorically dislike this specific admission.
Of course, several times in his muddled article he stipulates that he is in no way in favour of a “backroom deal” but is rather for an “honest battle.” We are simply recognizing that we have already won. Until a large-scale offensive by the Ukrainians. And we are going to hold onto what we’ve won with our teeth. Approximately.
It should be said that, in essence, this position in no way differs from Putin’s current position, if we disregard the fact that Putin is still not ready to admit that his war is not going to have any other goals beyond the seizure and occupation of foreign territories and mass murder. But it has to be understood that he doesn’t need Prigozhin’s advice. He is the one who is going to decide when to declare victory. He still has time. Until the Ukrainian army’s offensive.
There has been another military coup in Sudan. On 15 April, in the capital Khartoum, armed clashes began between the regular army and units of the so-called Rapid Strike Forces (RSF), which are considered elite special ops. It occurs to me that this is an important story for observers of Russian events. Sudan is a big country, with a population of 40 million, before the formation of South Sudan it was the largest state in Africa. But the long, 30-year rule of the dictator Omar al-Bashir brought Sudan to a serious crisis. The Islamification of the state apparatus brought about by the dictator provoked protests in the country’s south, a difficult war that the regime waged unsuccessfully for a long time, and, ultimately, the formation of South Sudan. The dictator was overthrown in 2019 as a result of mass protests by the population and with the support of the army, which the dictator had also begun to irritate. But a democratic regime could not be established. Army and RSF leaders were never able to agree, and they seemed to like playing the leading role in the country’s political life. In 2021, there was yet another coup, which prevented the handover of power to a civilian government. Now, apparently, there’s been another. And now no end or limit to the military operation and coups is in sight.
We will be watching and drawing conclusions.
Translated by Simon Cosgrove and Marian Schwartz