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Drugs, brawls, and theft: Russian courts commute soldiers’ sentences, treat war in Ukraine as “mitigating circumstance”, iStories report

Russian courts have begun to consider participation in the so-called “special military operations” as a mitigating circumstance in sentencing military personnel who have committed crimes, according to a study by independent investigative outlet iStories.

Journalists studied more than 80 sentences handed down by garrison military courts after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. In most of them, the fact that the soldier had fought in Ukraine led to a lighter sentence. The pattern was seen in at least 60 cases, or 84% of the total amount studied. Not only participation in the war itself “counted” towards a lighter sentence, but even the intention to go to the front or a donation to the Russian army. iStories confirmed nine such episodes.

More often than not, Russians who fought in the war were fined. Only in a quarter of cases did members of the military receive the same sentence as the majority of those convicted under the same charges.

iStories cites the following example: in March, a contract serviceman got drunk and started a fight in the Vladimir region, hitting a stranger on the head with his fist. After being charged with the “intentional infliction of grievous harm to one’s health,” he got off with a fine, which is a rare occurrence. Only two people were fined in similar circumstances throughout 2021 – the usual punishment was a suspended sentence.

Participation in the war also became a mitigating circumstance in cases of theft, falsification of documents and possession of drugs. A judge sentenced a serviceman from Kabardino-Balkaria to a fine of 10,000 rubles (approximately $165) for the purchase and possession of mephedrone. Another convict from the Rostov region, was sentenced to several years imprisonment on drug charges before the war, and at the beginning of the war he went to Ukraine as a member of the “Redut” squad. Eventually he returned to Russia and got another sentence: he “purchased some marijuana and strong pills from one of the local residents, exchanging them for dry rations for the soldiers” near Izium in the Kharkiv region. He tried to bring marijuana across the Russian border in an eyeglass case, but ended up getting caught and was found guilty on drug smuggling charges. He was sentenced not to three to six years in prison – the typical punishment in similar cases – but six months.

Another “popular” article was that of the abandonment of duty. Participation in the war became a mitigating circumstance in 28 such cases.

As an example of this, iStories cites the case of Russian contract serviceman Andrei Revyakin, who was absent from his unit from April to May, as he “decided to take a break from military service.” As a result, he received a suspended sentence. The court did not impose a real sentence because he “faithfully performed the duties of military service, including those associated with risk to life, participating the a special military operation.”

Sentences may be commuted not only for the military. Ruslan Kudinov, a resident of Valuyiki in the Belgorod region, was sentenced to 1.5 years probation for the purchase and storage of explosive devices – all because he claimed that he had bought hand grenades due to the “turbulent situation on the border [with Ukraine].” The court ruled that the punishment “was possible [to be carried out] without isolating Kudinov from society.”

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