TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — A court in Russia on Thursday affirmed the right of a man mobilized to fight in Ukraine to perform an alternative form of civil service due to his stated religious beliefs, setting a precedent that could persuade more reluctant draftees to try to get out of military service.
The Leningrad Regional Court upheld a ruling of a lower court that deemed the drafting of Pavel Mushumansky unlawful and said he was entitled to fulfill his duty in another way, Mushumansky’s lawyer, Alexander Peredruk, said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a call-up of army reservists in September. Although officials said 300,000 men were drafted as planned, the mobilization also spurred resistance. Tens of thousands of men fled the country, and some of those who stayed ignored their summons.
Others contested enlistment in the courts, including by claiming a right to alternative service, which entails taking up a paying job at state-run institutions or organizations. Those opting for alternative service often work in hospitals, care homes or post offices.
Peredruk told The Associated Press in a phone interview that Thursday’s ruling was the first of its kind since the mobilization began amid Moscow’s increasingly bogged-down military operation in Ukraine.
The publicly known attempts by other draftees to opt for alternative civil service failed, even though the right to be assigned to civil labor if military service goes against a person’s beliefs is guaranteed under the Russian Constitution.
Enlistment officials and courts argued that only regular conscripts were eligible for substitute service and that Russia does not have a law allowing such an option during a mobilization.
Mushumansky, an evangelical Christian from Gatchina, a city southwest of St. Petersburg, contested the decision to call him up on the grounds of his religious beliefs, Peredruk said. According to media reports, he was allowed to carry out alternative civil service in 2019 instead of a mandatory stint in the military as a conscript and worked for almost two years in a psychiatric care home.
Last year, he received a call-up summons just days after Putin announced a “partial mobilization.” Mushumansky went to the enlistment office to apply for the alternative service but was turned down and assigned to a military unit.
While challenging the decision in court, he refused to wear a uniform or to obey orders from his commanders.
In November, a court in Gatchina sided with Mushumansky, but enlistment officials appealed the ruling. The regional court’s Thursday decision takes immediate effect, according to Peredruk.
The lawyer hailed the ruling as not only an important one for his client, but also as an important example of Russian courts “making the right decisions from the point of the view of the constitution” and being “guided correctly by the norms of the law.”
“The key question was, what to do if there is no law (outlining alternative military service during mobilization)?” Peredruk said. “The courts (in Mushumansky’s case) gave an absolutely correct response: in this case, you implement the Constitution.”
The court ruling comes amid growing fears of a second mobilization. The Kremlin has repeatedly denied having plans for one, but rights advocates and media outlets in Russia reported this week that men in several dozen regions were being served summons to either go to an enlistment office to update their personal records or to take part in military training.
Russian authorities declared the call-up completed in late October. However, some Russian lawyers and rights groups pointed out that Putin’s decree ordering it remained in effect until the president issues another decree, formally ending the mobilization and invalidating the previous document.
Reporters have asked Putin whether he would do so, and the Russian leader promised to “consult with the lawyers.” The Kremlin later acknowledged the decree still stood but said call-up efforts have ceased.