Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Wednesday said that one of his allies had been forcibly conscripted and sent to serve at a remote Arctic base, in a move that his supporters said amounted to kidnapping.
Ruslan Shaveddinov, a project manager at Navalny’s foundation, went missing on Monday after police broke into his Moscow apartment and his cellphone’s SIM card was disabled.
On Tuesday, he resurfaced at a secret air defense base on the remote Novaya Zemlya archipelago in the Arctic Ocean, Navalny said.
Separating the Barents and Kara seas, the Novaya Zemlya islands were used by the Soviet Union to conduct nuclear tests.
“He has been unlawfully deprived of freedom,” Navalny — Russian President Vladimir Putin’s top opponent — said in a blog post, calling the 23-year-old a “political prisoner.”
The Russian military insisted that Shaveddinov had been dodging the draft for a long time.
Russian men are eligible for conscription between the ages of 18 and 27, and serve one year’s military service.
However, many find ways to avoid this in a corrupt, flawed system.
Opposition supporters called for Shaveddinov’s release, staging protests in Moscow, including outside army headquarters.
One of the placards read: “Mandatory military service is a tool of repression.”
“Happy New Year 1937,” said another placard, referring to the peak year of the Stalin-era purges.
“Ruslan Shaveddinov has been kidnapped by the FSB [Russian Federal Security Service] and exiled to Novaya Zemlya,” the sign said, according to photographs released by Navalny’s allies.
Shaveddinov has a medical condition that disqualifies him for military service, Navalny said, but added that he was forcibly drafted and sent to the Arctic base without basic training.
Vyacheslav Gimadi, a lawyer for Navalny’s foundation, said that Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu and Putin were directly responsible for what he claimed was an act of “kidnapping.”
Navalny’s spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, who is Shaveddinov’s partner, said that Shaveddinov had acted as a contact person for opposition lawmakers in the Moscow Parliament.
“Perhaps this is the reason this has happened,” Yarmysh said.
Shaveddinov had managed to call her from Novaya Zemlya using other people’s phones, she said.
Shaveddinov was not allowed to communicate with the outside world or use a phone, unlike other military personnel, Navalny said.
The military also assigned a man to follow Shaveddinov all the time, he added.
“The armed forces themselves don’t know what the hell they should do with him,” Navalny said.
Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters that he did not know whether Shaveddinov had been dodging the draft.
“If he had and was drafted in this manner, then everything was done in strict accordance with the law,” Peskov said.
Prominent rights campaigner Valentina Melnikova said that it was unusual for the authorities to send conscripts to remote Arctic outposts known for harsh weather conditions and long polar nights.
Melnikova, head of the Union of the Committees of Soldiers Mothers of Russia, accused officials of breaching all possible conscription procedures in Shaveddinov’s case.
“Forcing people to live in extreme conditions is sadism,” political observer Igor Yakovenko said, adding that punishing members of the opposition by sending them to the Arctic is a “crime.”
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