Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Not All Russian Judges Allowing Convicts to Avoid Serving Time in Order to Fight in Ukraine, ‘Verstka’ Investigation Finds

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Mar. 1 – So much attention has been given to the role of Russian convicts in the Russian army in Ukraine that many appear to think that if a prisoner agrees to serve in the military there, he will be able to do so more or less automatically and his sentence will be suspended or annulled automatically.

            But an investigation by the independent Vertstka news portal points out that Russian courts have a role in this process and notes that “not all judges agree to let convicts go to the front” often because they say that “war and mobilization are no reason to release criminals” (

            Not all Russian courts publish their decisions, so a complete statistical picture of this situation is not available. But Verstka found 199 cases in which convicts sought court action to vacate their sentences when they declared that they were prepared to join the Russian army in Ukraine.

            In 38 of these cases, judges did allow applicants to go into the military and fight in Ukraine; but “in at least 15 cases,” Verstka reports, “the courts refused to grant applications. In the remainder, the courts appear to have allowed the men to join up but insisted that they eventually serve their full sentence or some fraction thereof.

            This pattern is intriguing because it suggests Russian judges are prepared to go against what is the Kremlin’s clear intent that prisoners be allowed to serve and indicates that at least some judges in the Russian Federation are prepared to stand up to what must be enormous official pressure to go along.   

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