Ruslan Shaveddinov is a representative of the team of Russian politician Alexei Navalny, who actively participated in protests in Moscow in the 2019. People protested because of the refusal of the government to register opposition representatives as candidates in the elections to the Moscow City Duma. But we are not talking about protests now. I have already said in this article that conscript service in the Russian army is like a year in a psychiatric hospital because of hazing, constant bullying and psychological pressure. Today, using the example of Ruslan’s story, I will try to prove to you that the Russian army is perceived even by the officials as something akin to a prison. We are accustomed to the fact that in order to deprive the people of opposition leaders, their reputation is destroyed with propaganda, they are being sent to administrative arrest for 30-60 days, or criminal cases are fabricated against them, after which the opposition ends up in jail. They can be easily attributed to the status of political prisoners. But Ruslan’s story is outstanding for one simple reason – he was simply forcibly taken to the army during the protests. In fact, this article is a translation of Ruslan’s own speech during the trial under the terms of Ruslan’s military service, and the denial of his right to make phone calls. The transfer of Ruslan Shaveddinov to the unit without communication was handled personally by the deputy commander of the 45th Army. This speech will tell you about everything that happened much better than I can.
“Your Honor, for the first time in seven months I have the opportunity to speak, for which I am very grateful to you. Seven months ago, I was kidnapped from my own apartment and sent into political exile. In fact, no one from those around me is hiding that this is a political exile with the aim of intimidating me, intimidating all young people who are interested in politics in Russia, who are opposed to the current government.
I was sent into exile in the Arctic. Moreover, I was sent deep into the Arctic so that I could not keep in touch and communicate with my colleagues at the Anti-Corruption Foundation. So that I could not keep in touch with my relatives, people close and dear to me. In fact, I am actually serving political exile. People who support me and are interested in my story from all over the country send letters and books in which there are really some dissident stories about oppositionists exiled many, many miles away in the past, and now those times have returned. The current government has not been able to draw up some kind of criminal case against me yet- so far, I repeat, – we do not doubt their success. So they decided to isolate me like this for a year.
Well, okay, they sent me to the Arctic, I’m kind of a big guy, I can withstand all these physical and psychological challenges, but in a sophisticated way they threw me to some post, which is located almost 300 kilometers from the nearest piece of civilization, where is a telephone connection at least… That is, I was deprived of even the elementary things: in 2020, in the 21st century, I am deprived of the opportunity to talk on the phone once a week for one hour, as it should be for all servicemen.
I am deprived of access even to such basic things as water: I walk several kilometers every couple of days, pick up and drag a 49-liter can of water, and two more soldiers drag the same cans so that we have water. I am deprived of electricity: we have a former tractor generator, which we refuel every couple of hours with diesel fuel so that we at least have light. It is July, I really still sometimes wake up in the barrel in which I live, from the fact that water is dripping from above, because the roof is full of holes, or because the cold covered all the walls with frost. I really do not understand why to mock a person so much in 2020? Well, since they decided to send me into exile, why mock me so much?
Captain Alekseev deceived me a little when I was transferred to unit 26984. I got out of the car in which I was taken to Rogachevo from Belushya Guba, he had a conversation with me, the initial instruction, said: “Be careful, there are polar bears here, blablabla, and now let’s go. ” I thought that we were going to the barracks, I did not think about anything – but I found myself in a helicopter and flew away. They even took my bag away, and from March 18 to April 2 I was, sorry, without a toothbrush, toilet paper and shampoo. We had to melt the snow.
In a place called Chirakino, you wait a month and a half for food to be brought to you. They drop you a bag of canned food and a bag of groats from a helicopter – Dude, survive, we didn’t leave you, we didn’t forget. I receive letters from people, some of them write: “Hi, Ruslan, this is my letter No. 5, I have not received an answer from you.” Letters are delivered to me selectively, [letters] from relatives are shown to the court before [I get them].
I didn’t go through any real training [military profession] – I don’t understand electrics, Your Honor, even being an “electrician of second category” [on paper]. I did not study anything in unit 23362, then they made an exclusive “training company” for me, in which I was the only student: I was sitting in the office, there was a contract soldier with me – an unfortunate sergeant who filmed me on camera so that nothing happened to me. He has been filming me just sitting for a month and a half. What did you study? Didn’t learn anything. A couple of days before the transfer to unit 26984, they issued a certificate stating that I have access to the second or third category “electrical appliances”.
[When transferred to Chirakino] at the same hour they said: “You, Shaveddinov, have been enrolled in the position of a“ diesel operator”. And showed how to refuel an old tractor engine. Nobody asked me, they presented me with a fact. I didn’t go through training to become a “diesel operator”, I went through survival training. I can refuel the engine, this is a simple science, but the diesel operator has practically no work: refuel and pump eight tons [of fuel] – I have four calluses on my hands, because ten days ago I poured [the fuel] from one barrel to another, it takes about three hours and half. Now, while I am here, a tanker has come to Chirakino, so at least I am not unloading the tanker with diesel fuel right now – thank you, Your Honor.
When [I was going to the court] the commander of the unit, Colonel Mordvintsev, called me and said: “Shaveddinov, let’s do like this: you withdraw your claims, I promise in return that I will leave you in the garrison and let you use mobile communications – like everyone else, an hour per week. I said, “Pfft, this is not even so-so.” He said: “You will live here, just without political statements and activities.” I replied that it is difficult to do political activities on Novaya Zemlya, and the proposal is unacceptable in any case, they will deceive me anyway.
I was removed from the post three days ago: I flew to the garrison at 16:50, already at 18:00 I was put to the company attire, where I stood for a day. In a day, in theory, the company attire was supposed to change, but they gave me the second day. I was awake for 48 hours, after which [the commander] said: “You understand what awaits you when you return.” I understand that I will come and stand for days and not sleep, and then a couple of days will pass, I will be tortured, and they will send me back to Chirakino. I understand all this, but I will not refuse the right to go to court, even under the threat of not sleeping for days.
Your Honor, here we are in masks, because of the coronavirus [pandemic]. I was very worried all this time, I heard that there is an epidemic in Moscow, my mother lives there, my loved ones – I could not even find out about their condition. Until now, I have not had the opportunity to call, I still do not know if any of them were sick.
If someone believed that I should have been scared or somehow stopped my political activities, I or my colleagues in the FBK [ACF- Anti-Corruption Foundation] should have stopped my investigations and telling the truth about the corruption of people who have seized power in Russia. Well, nothing will succeed, I am not scared. I have been [serving] for seven months now, as you can see, I stand in front of you alive. I have some cuts, scratches, I am insanely tired, because I sleep quite a bit, I do not drink clean water, and my bath consists of the fact that I heat melted snow on a heater, which according to documents passes like an electronic fireplace, but in fact, this is an ordinary small heater. So I melt the snow, and then I wash my face with this water, Your Honor (laughs), and then I brush my teeth with the same water, and then I cook soup with it.
That’s it, there are no conditions, and this is all done so that when I am released in December, no matter what the Russian law enforcement agencies come up with, I will be free sooner or later, perhaps they will come up with something and again drag me somewhere – but in any case I can talk about these flagrant violations of my basic rights. If you are now afraid that I will tell something and deprive me of my phone, well, in December I will tell about it anyway, it is impossible to hide it. I will not be silent. I will not be afraid. I will continue my activities. Everyone who works at FBK, for them, this did not become some lesson that someone had to learn for themselves – everyone continued their activities with even greater anger.
I admire the courage of the command of this unit, which, looking at my face, says: “Well, Shaveddinov, you understand everything, we don’t approve this ourselves, some uncle like Kartapolov, Deputy Defense Minister, called us from Moscow and said that we should do this – forgive us and do not be offended”. Somewhere deep in my heart I understand that people are forced, they were ordered. But I can never forgive this, Your Honor, and respected representative of the unit with which I am suing. I will never forgive this and I will not understand. If you are given a knowingly criminal order, at least talk about it, resist, show dissatisfaction with this situation. Otherwise, it turns out that you tell me how you support me, what a fine fellow I am, but you do it in a whisper, so no one hears you, in order to whiten yourself. I will not forget this and people who follow what is happening will not forget and will not forgive either.
Your Honor, we met on February 21, and then I was the only one kidnapped lawlessly. You made a decision by listening to some dark forces; I do not know exactly who makes decisions about me on an ongoing basis, but you made a decision not in my favor. Thus, you opened Pandora’s box: now they have kidnapped a guy with asthma – you probably heard this case – Artyom Ionov from Moscow, an employee of the FBK, our IT-specialist. A guy who wasn’t involved in politics … he mainly distributed videos, did nothing else, basically set up the Internet in FBK. He had asthma, he cannot be taken into the army, but because you, Your Honor, gave the go-ahead to kidnap everyone else, he was kidnapped. He was kidnapped from his apartment and sent to Chukotka. A guy with asthma! If he leans back there, your Sergey Kuzhugetovich [minister of Defense], respected representative of unit 26894… I promise that sooner or later I will get him to be in the jail. Everything that happens to Artyom Ionov in CATD [closed administrative-territorial district], where doctors will not come to him, will be personally on his hands.
You used to hide behind some legal acts, the pro-Kremlin media and garbage telegram channels wrote about me that Shaveddinov was [sent to serve] legally – despite the fact that they cut out my door and took me to Novaya Zemlya very quickly. Okay, but what about it? The guy has asthma, they kidnap him! Throw away all political preferences, [no matter] you are an oppositionist or the government, a person with asthma cannot be in a closed military town in Chukotka, he can physically die. I was told by my lawyers that Ionov is being called, but the calls will not save the guy. I was sitting in the office next door, I saw that he was asthmatic and puffs with this thing, an inhaler.
Now they have kidnapped my colleague Ivan Konovalov – a guy who was not involved in politics, he was the press secretary of the Alliance of Doctors, which is an organization that defends the rights of medical workers. Against the background of the coronavirus, this is extremely important, because many of them are deceived and do not pay the due payments. He fought for the doctors who saved our lives. Mine is not, because I was kept in Novaya Zemlya, where I did not undergo examinations, but your temperature was probably measured here, and you all went through it. He is here, in Arkhangelsk, I was just informed, in military unit 21514, passing a training course. That is it, I know for sure that you will send it further. He also has health problems, which is confirmed by medical indications, this is generally a mess.
Here it is obvious to everyone that this is a politically motivated case. And you, Your Honor, can save face in this matter. I understand that you will not send me home, I understand this. Since I have been sent to a closed city, I can no longer be saved, and I will be in this exile until December. But you can make it easier for me … You know, during the time of the Nazis, you can be such a dude who saved Jews.
Now Navalny was here, he said, like: “I’ve talked with your mother, she seems okay more or less, alive and well.” This is the only time I have heard something about my mom since March 18th. On March 18, I called her, I keep a record from this date, when I formally had the opportunity to call.
You will send me back now, I will come and tell these guys that there is no snow here, it turns out that there are trees and water. Because they live there and do not know it. Thanks to the court, I got here today, but they live there and don’t know about it. And therefore, I will continue to fight not only for my rights, but also for the rights of the guys who are there. There is absolutely no need for them to be there. And for the rights of those officers who apply to me.
Here you are with the phone, all the meetings were recorded, well, this is how all decisions on political matters are made in our country, Your Honor.
You have already received a “court’s decision”, I understand. Once again, I ask you, you cannot completely free me now, it is clear that you cannot allow this for yourself, but to ease the fate of the prisoner, no matter how pompously it may sound, all this is in your hands. This is a very bad trend, and very bad times come when the Ministry of Defense is used as a branch of the federal service for the execution of sentences. I ask you to make the only right decision – to cancel the illegal order of the unit commander, to provide me with mobile communications, as it should be according to the law and as it should be according to [the military service regulations about] the daily routine.