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Russian courts issue first verdicts for desertion and military unit abandonment during mobilization

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Courts in Russia have started to hand down verdicts under new laws on desertion and abandonment of units during mobilization and combat operations.

A conviction for desertion was issued in Murmansk, while two suspended sentences were handed down in Veliky Novgorod and Solnechnogorsk for abandoning one’s unit, reported independent news website Mediazona, citing data published by garrison military courts.

Maksim Malyshev was convicted in Murmansk in December and was accused of desertion and an attempted illegal border crossing. The prison term Malyshev received is currently unknown as the trial was closed to the public.

The following is a quote from the judge regarding his decision to hold the trial behind closed doors:

“The trial was closed [to the public] as it contained secret information, [information] not [meant] for public consumption. You know how Western media works. Don't you watch TV, what they’re saying about us? The crime he committed is high-profile in terms of the events that are happening now. And in order not to leak information and not to tell [the Yanks] what these people are doing in Russia, [that’s why] I closed the trial, that's all.”

Serviceman Danil Ivanov was given a five-year suspended sentence in Veliky Novgorod – he was accused of leaving his post for more than a month. According to investigators, he left his unit in the Belgorod region on April 29 and did not return voluntarily until September 26 – after mobilization had been announced nationwide.

Alexey Sozonov was tried for the same offense in December. The details of Sozonov’s case are also unknown; he received a four-year suspended sentence.

On 20 September, Russia’s State Duma introduced “mobilization” and “martial law” into the criminal code: the “mobilization”-related amendments have spawned a whole new set of clauses, including “voluntary surrender” and “looting,” and the period of “martial law” or “wartime” has become an aggravating circumstance. Previously, a soldier could have seen up to five years in prison for the involuntary abandonment of his unit, but for the same crime committed during mobilization, one may now get up to 10 years behind bars.

In November, a study by independent investigative outlet iStories revealed that “participants in the special military operation” had their sentences commuted for drunken brawls, theft and drug possession, as Russian courts are now treating involvement in the war in Ukraine as a mitigating circumstance.

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