There will be penalties of up to 10 years in prison for soldiers who desert. New protests against the mobilization of reservists leave some 700 detainees.
The president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, promulgated this Saturday a law that toughens penalties for crimes committed in times of military mobilization and that will punish voluntary surrender, refusal to fight or desertion with up to ten years in prison.
The toughening of punishments comes just days after Putin announced a population mobilization that will affect some 300,000 reservists, to reinforce his army fighting in a military operation in Ukraine.
These amendments to the Penal Code, which had been voted on in Parliament this week, were published on the official government portal, so they came into force automatically.
The new provisions provide for sentences of up to 10 years in prison for soldiers who desert, surrender “without authorization” to the enemy, refuse to fight or disobey orders during a period of mobilization.
Acts of looting will also be punished with sentences of up to 15 years in prison.
The mobilization order released this week, which concerns some 300,000 people according to the authorities, raised concern among many Russians, and there were those who chose to leave the country due to the possibility of having to join the military ranks and march to the battlefront to fight on Ukrainian territory.
The mobilization of reservists is due in part to the progress being made by local forces in eastern Ukraine, where they have regained control of several towns that had fallen into Russian hands after the invasion that began on February 24.
Another law signed on Saturday facilitates access to Russian citizenship for those foreigners who enlist in the Russian army for at least one year, without having to justify five years of residence on Russian territory, as is usually required.
The measure appears to target primarily migrants from former Soviet republics in Central Asia, who, in large agglomerations like Moscow, are often engaged in low-skilled jobs.
Before Putin signed this law, Russia’s close partners in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) military alliance -such as Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan- and outside it -such as Uzbekistan- issued warnings to their fellow citizens in Russia to alert them against the temptation to enlist in exchange for Russian citizenship.
The Kyrgyz embassy in Moscow reminded more than a million citizens in Russia that participation in armed conflicts or military actions on the territory of foreign states provides for “criminal liability”.
The Tajik Legation issued a similar warning, and the Uzbek Prosecutor General’s Office argued that taking part in another country’s military operation would carry between 3 and 10 years in prison.
Another day of protests
In the midst of these news, according to independent organizations about 700 people were arrested on Saturday in the new protests against the mobilization decreed by Putin.
“As of 6:51 p.m. Moscow time, more than 689 people had already been detained in 30 cities,” said OVD-Info, an organization that tracks arrests in Russia. The largest number of arrests occurred in Moscow, where by that time the police had arrested 345 people.
In St. Petersburg, the country’s second largest city, there were 129 detainees and the police used batons and Tasers against the protesters, according to local media.
The protest, called by the opposition youth movement Vesná (Spring) took place under the slogan “Assembly of women in black”. “Women, enough of putting up with it! Enough of being silent! We do not want our men to die for political games. Go out in black to the squares!”, the call read.
Those on Saturday are the second protests since the call for the mobilization of reservists was known. The first ones took place on Wednesday, and left some 1,300 people detained as a result.