Ruslan Shaveddinov has a bitter memory of his military service. For a year, the opponent Russian He was obliged to serve in the New Zembla archipelago, in the Arctic, in the midst of the polar bears.

“They sent me as far as possible”, sums up Shaveddinov, a militant close to Alexei Navalny, whose poisoning and subsequent imprisonment led to a crisis between Moscow and the West.

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The only positive thing that comes from the experience is that, during those months, he learned not to fear the bears that roamed around the post where he was stationed with four other soldiers, isolated from everything and only accessible by helicopter.

“A bear chased me once. In the end, he was not aggressive because he fed him “explains Shaveddinov, 25.

On Russia, more than 250,000 men between the ages of 18 and 27 do military service each year, which has lasted one year since 2008 (previously it lasted two). Thanks to this, hazing was reduced although the violence persists.

Many Russians manage to avoid it for medical reasons or because they are studying, but also by ignoring the summons or with bribes.

For opponents, on the other hand, getting rid of military service is usually much more complicated.

The government takes advantage of the recruitment to silence them, opponents say.

“A punishment without crime”

Ruslan Shaveddinov was subjected to pressure and two raids at the end of 2019, when his team had just coordinated a demonstration in Moscow and was finalizing a strategy to face the party of the president, Vladimir Putin, in local elections.

It was then that he was mobilized into the army, despite, he says, “medical contraindications.”

Shaveddinov resorted to the draft but all his appeals were rejected. On December 23, 2019, some policemen forced the door of his apartment and took him, handcuffed, to the Great North.

“I did not imagine that Russia he would resume his practice of sending political personalities into exile “, he points out. The power wants to “scare” the youth, he adds.

During his service, he never had access to a cell phone and had to communicate with his relatives through handwritten letters that took weeks to arrive.

He is one of the three collaborators of Alexei Navalny who have been enrolled against their will in the last five years. Four others were prosecuted for “missing” their military obligations.

Oleg Kozlovski, a 36-year-old human rights activist, was enlisted in 2007, despite the fact that he had a medical certificate and was exempt anyway because he was a student.

“My case was a dangerous precedent. Now those methods are being used relentlessly. “laments Kozlovski, who works for Amnesty International.

“It is a punishment without crime, a means of isolating”, adds the activist, pointing out that the authorities resort to it when “fabricating judicial processes or finding real motives is difficult or impossible.”

According to him, the cases of known militants sent to the army are only the “tip of the iceberg”. In parallel, the authorities often check the military situation of the protesters they arrest.

In 2019, Russian investigators identified “134 cases” of people who had not done military service among protesters detained in Moscow. Similar checks were ordered in January and February after pro-Navalni rallies.

Asked about it, the Russian Defense Ministry declined to respond to AFP.

“School of slavery”

A hundred kilometers from Saint Petersburg, in Luga, Margarita Yudina is outraged that her sons Robert and Rostilslav, 24 and 20, have been called up.

According to her, everything is related to “his political activities.” Yudina, a Navalni supporter, was beaten in January by police during a rally. The case appeared in the press, and she publicly denounced her assault and reported it.

“It is about pressure, intimidation and harassment so that I speak less”, says the 54-year-old woman, who refuses to have her children – one of whom is diabetic – be sent to the army, “a school of slavery.”

Although Russian troops have become very professional in recent years, recruitment persists for budgetary reasons, but also for cultural reasons, in a country that was for a long time highly militarized.

In Siberia’s Altai Republic, Vsevolod Gunkov, a 19-year-old activist, hopes to be free. After being pressured for his involvement in the opposition, he was mobilized last fall but managed to avoid enlisting.

“I had prepared myself and immediately appealed the decision of the military commission”, which annulled it, explains to AFP.

But in April he was summoned again for examinations and recruitment. According to him, there is no doubt: “the problems continue.”

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