Military Conscription Is a Crime Against Humanity

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A young Russian conscript receives a military uniform ahead of departing for service in November 2021. (Kirill Kukhmar / TASS

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is a reminder that military conscription remains foundational to modern warfare. It is a reckless, self-defeating, and criminal practice that makes us all less safe — and it should have been abolished long ago.

Jonah Walters | Jacobin | The shocking and massively destructive Russian assault on Ukraine, still ongoing at the time of this writing, is conducted by a military that includes an estimated 260,000 conscripted soldiers in its ranks.

Many of the conscripts come from areas of the vast Russian landmass so remote that, in a less polite era, geographers would not have hesitated to call them hinterlands. These include places so distant from the symbolic seats of national power that many of their residents emphatically refuse to consider themselves Russian; in the first four years of occupation, an estimated eighteen thousand Crimeans, for example, were conscripted into the occupying Russian armed forces. Wherever they hail from, the conscripts are overwhelmingly poor, having proven unable to procure an exemption to mandatory military service, as is the well-established practice for their countrymen of higher social status. And all of them are young — unthinkably and hauntingly young. Most are around twenty years old.

Soldiers’ mothers are a traditional base for antiwar politics in Russia, and they began raising the alarm even before the invasion, posting on social media that their sons had fallen out of contact after being suddenly transported to military bases near the border. Some claim their sons weren’t even told where they were headed until they arrived at a hot war in Ukraine; others say they were forced to sign so-called war contracts under the threat of physical abuse by superiors (Russian law requires such contracts before conscripts can be deployed to war zones). The leader of the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers in Volgograd says she has received ten calls a day from soldiers’ distraught family members since the invasion began. Meanwhile, officials at the Ukrainian interior ministry have taken it upon themselves to publicize the war’s grisly results to the Russian public, publishing photographs of killed Russian soldiers on a website titled “Look for Yours.”

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