Lev Shlosberg: The collapse of the state begins with its alienation from the individual
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13 April 2023

Lev Shlosberg, chairman of the Pskov Regional Branch of the Yabloko party, historian, journalist and holder of a Moscow Helsinki Group award

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group

For the second time since 24 February 2022, a package of laws is being enacted in Russia, which introduces aspects of martial law without such a state being officially imposed. 

The first occasion was 4 March 2022 when laws on military censorship were adopted and put into effect within less than 24 hours. 

The second occasion is right now — with the introduction of online call-up papers, the digitisation of the entire call-up procedure independent of the citizen and – which is the key thing –  the conferring on military recruitment offices of the right, without reference to the courts, to place restrictions on fundamental constitutional human rights: the right to property, the right to work, the right to housing and the right to freedom of movement.

It is currently hard to imagine how a system can operate in which military recruitment offices, lacking all law-enforcement and judicial authority, are given rights that exceed the powers of the courts. 

It’s not even a matter of the inevitable corruption and the recruitment offices’ obvious lack of staff qualified to wield these powers. It’s a matter of an internal game-changer for the entire system of state authority when Defence Ministry structures gain political law-enforcement powers in respect of citizens at large. 

The Russian Defence Ministry has never before introduced a more self-interested law. The most “draconian” laws of Soviet times have faded into the background. 

The speed at which amendments are being adopted shows that the law has been agreed with Putin. No one else in Russia could ensure the draft was given such a “green light”.

As always, the devil is in the details and the 80-page table of amendments, hastily introduced and passed unanimously within 37 minutes, contains much that is important that hasn’t even been publicly discussed: not least the abolition of the three-month limit on a conscript’s enlistment (which allows him to be sent to a combat zone), as well as the possibility for 18-year-olds, school leavers in effect, to enlist voluntarily.

These innovations make clear the thrust of state military policy in the immediate future: mass conscription under contract.

Based on the fact that the call-up currently applies to men aged from 18 to 27, then, according to the Federal State Statistics Service, there are around 8,000,000 such people in Russia at the moment. If the call-up is extended to the age of 30, slightly fewer than 3,000,000 more can be added. 

The procedure for challenging recruitment offices’ decisions is being substantially overhauled and that hasn’t been publicly discussed either. Previously, the mere fact of a challenge to a call-up decision halted its enforcement until a court ruling was reached. Now, however, a decision can only be suspended by a court as an interim measure in each individual case. It is difficult to expect that Russian courts will implement such measures consistently. 

It is important to understand that call-up papers can be sent to any citizen on any day of the year and not only during conscription campaigns. The consequences of “failure to take receipt” of them ”between campaigns” will be same as during them. 

A reading of the federal law on martial law makes it clear that those behind the amendments on the “online call-up” were holding a copy of that law as they wrote them.

This is becoming Putin’s trademark style: de facto takes precedence over de jure. In a state where the law has been destroyed and the laws themselves are unlawful, no other approach is possible.

Each packet of laws of this kind is a blow the state deals to itself and to the written constitutional bases of the state and the law. It destroys the relationship between state and citizens, introducing a system of serfdom that generates all sorts of arbitrary decision-making.

Evidently, the authorities are convinced that society is utterly demoralised and ready for this sort of law. Indeed, there are no public protests inside the country nor will there be. But it is too soon to imagine how these “digital cogs” will turn once they are set in motion and thousands of people start to end up in them. The growing imbalance in the rights of the state and of citizens will inevitably alienate the state from the individual. The collapse of the state begins with its alienation from the individual.

Translated by Melanie Moore

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