In a move that sounds like something from the playbook of the Czars or like the purges of Stalin when “enemies of the state” were exiled to Siberia, the government of Vladimir Putin has dusted off those tactics. Ruslan Shaveddinov a close ally of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, was arrested, forcibly conscripted in the army and sent off to a remote military base in the Arctic.
Shaveddinov, 28, has been fighting conscription in the military on medical grounds. Military service in Russia is compulsory for one year for all men between the ages of 18 and 27 unless they are exempt due to medical or other grounds.
Colonel Maxim Loktev, Moscow’s deputy military commissioner, told the Russian news agency Tass that Shaveddinov had long evaded military service and had been conscripted legally. A Moscow court rejected his appeal against conscription and on Monday, FSB agents broke down the door to his apartment, arrested him and promptly sent him to a Russian base in the Arctic, in the remote Novaya Zemlya archipelago, 1,240 miles north of Moscow.
“Shaveddinov has left with a group of conscripts to the location of his military service,” which, according to the Russian military: “has been determined in strict compliance with the results of his medical tests and professional skills.” There he was assigned to the 33rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Regiment, whose headquarters is in Rogachovo, Novaya Zemlya.
Shaveddinov had been working as a project manager for opposition leader Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) when he was forcibly conscripted. He had served as the Press Secretary for Navalny when the latter ran for president against Putin. He also worked as a presenter for Navalny’s Live YouTube channel.
Ruslan Shaveddinov (Twitter)
“He’s a genuine political prisoner or, if you wish, he has been sent into exile,” Navalny said. He added that FBK was going to challenge his conscription, stating that Shaveddinov was kidnapped and is being detained illegally.
A video surfaced on Twitter that Navalny said shows Shaveddinov being detained and hustled off in a police van before being whisked away to the army base. However, the person shown on the video hasn’t been verified as being Shaveddinov.
Navalny told the press that conscripts are not sent to the bases until their basic training is completed and they have taken their oath of enlistment. Shaveddinov has done neither. “[It] appears to be like like Mr. Putin himself drafted the plan to isolate our Ruslan,” Navalny posted on Twitter after Shaveddinov’s detention and forced conscription.
“I’m impressed by the size of the means and efforts used: His SIM card was disabled; the FSB broke the door,” he added, referring to Russia’s security service. “[Within] a day he was taken on a number of airplanes to Novaya Zemlya.”
“Army service has become a mechanism of imprisonment. It is only an approach to deprive folks of freedom.”
Navalny said that he learned where Shaveddinov was after he borrowed a cell phone from another soldier and called him. Shaveddinov said to Navalny that he had a military member shadowing his every movement, even to the latrine, and that he won’t be allowed the use of a cellphone — something which is against Russian law. Russian soldiers, even conscripts, are allowed to have a cellphone as long as they don’t have internet capability.
Putin’s government has used the FSB to surveil, threaten, arrest and attack members of Navalny’s FBK. Shaveddinov himself has been arrested three times as the opposition has grown increasingly loud in their protests, which grew huge in Moscow this summer.
The government froze the bank accounts of Navalny’s foundation and branded it a “foreign agent,” while courts ordered him and his followers to pay millions of dollars in damages after the protests.
Novaya Zemlya is a bitterly cold base where temperatures can routinely get to -40 degrees F in the winter and get no warmer than 50 degrees in the short summer.
Meanwhile, Shaveddinov is effectively a player that has jumped back in time to the era of the 1937 purges in the Stalinist Soviet Union. He’s in exile on a Russian base far north in the Arctic where he’s being held incommunicado with the outside world.