Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Moscow Gelds Chief Defenders of Rights of Russian Soldiers

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Oct. 7 – By imposing criminal sanctions on any reporting about life in the Russian military at a time when for the first time in seven years, the number of violations of the military code has risen, Moscow has effectively gelded the Soldiers’ Mothers Committee, one of the most respected and widely supported of NGOs in the Russian Federation.

            In a response to the government’s move, the Soldiers’ Mothers organization declared that “the new law in fact reduces to nothing the possibilities of work by rights defenders, lawyers and journalists. We will not even be able to right about declarations received about crimes and about conditions in specific units” (soldiersmothers.ru/news/obrashhenie-organizatsii).

            Anton Shcherbak, a lawyer who works with the group, says that “we cannot risk our freedom in order to help people.” And the number it has helped is enormous. According to the group, it receives 4,000 to 5,000 appeals each year and in most cases is able to offer the victims of illegal action substantive help (severreal.org/a/soldatskie-materi-bolshe-nikomu-ne-pomogut/31496187.html).

            With the new restrictions, it is unclear what will happen to such people. On the one hand, some may be able to get justice within the military. But on the other, without the threat of media coverage and the help of groups like Soldiers’ Mothers, many won’t – and because they won’t, those inclined to violate the laws will feel freer to do so.

            Sergey Krivenko, the coordinator of the Citizen and the Army Rights Defense Initiative, says that solving problems, including those with the defense of the rights of military personnel, is “possible only in cooperation with civil society.” But those opportunities are now being closed down, and with them the chance the justice will be found.

            As a result, he says, such closing off of key institutions won’t lead to any solution. Instead, keeping things out of view by means of the power of the state, “as we remember from the Soviet Union will solve nothing but only make all problems worse.”

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