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26 Dec, 2019 11:09

Navalny aide who wanted to see US tanks in Moscow is conscripted into military service, sent to Artic

Navalny aide who wanted to see US tanks in Moscow is conscripted into military service, sent to Artic

An ally of Russian opposition figure Aleksey Navalny has been drafted into military service and deployed to a desolate Arctic island. Navalny has called the move an act of kidnaping orchestrated by the Russian president himself.

Ruslan Shaveddinov is part of Navalny’s extended ‘inner circle’, working as an organizer and a host at the opposition activist’s web-based TV channel. On Tuesday his boss announced he’d gone missing. Shortly afterwards Shaveddinov’s whereabouts became known – he has been conscripted into military service and sent to the Novaya Zemlya archipelago.

The development was hardly a surprise. The Russian military announced its intention to conscript the 23-year-old two months ago after his paperwork got processed as part of a brief police detention. Shaveddinov challenged this in court, saying that the medical commission that found him eligible for service had failed to properly examine him.

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Two courts sided with the military, with his appeal rejected just before he was taken from his home in Moscow. Supporters claim the military turned a blind eye to his second appeal – which would have likely protracted his case beyond the December 31 deadline – and drafted him illegally. The military denies any wrongdoing.

Navalny claims that Shaveddinov’s conscription was part of a plot to isolate the activist and that it comes from the top echelons of the Russian government. “Looks like Putin himself drafted the plan to isolate our Ruslan,” he wrote on Twitter. The Kremlin distanced itself from the affair, saying that conscription decisions were the prerogative of the defense ministry.

Novaya Zemlya is certainly no seaside resort. It’s quite isolated and cold, and service members have to take extra precautions when going outside, so as not to run into a stray polar bear. Shaveddinov is one of a hundred or so conscripts deployed there each year.

The archipelago’s traditional defense role is to host a radar station to keep an eye on NATO aircraft that may intrude across the North Pole. Over the past years the military has been rapidly developing infrastructure there.

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Whether his deployment there had anything to do with Shaveddinov’s opposition work is up for debate. The man has a history of controversial statements. For instance, in one of his tweets in 2014 he mused that if John McCain had won the US presidency “we would be certainly celebrating [US] tanks in Moscow.” He was also a vocal supporter of Ukraine’s right-wing paramilitary groups and cheered the mass killings of pro-Russia activists in Odessa in May 2014.

Navalny’s foundation is currently being investigated for alleged financial misconduct. The Russian authorities believe he and his people have been hiding funding from foreign governments by recording it as private donations by Russian citizens, to avoid registering as a foreign agent.

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