Partial mobilisation: to fight or to flee?


Eastern Europe

William Immink. CNE.news

A military cadet stands in front of a billboard promoting contract army service in Saint Petersburg. Photo AFP, Olga Maltseva

President Putin’s call to a partial mobilisation of the Russian reservists last month, also affects young Russian Christian men. They have to choose: do I fight, or do I flee?

„If I am going to be called up, I will just go," a young Russian Christian, Slava from Moscow, resolutely says: „I hope they will allow me to dig trenches or to cook porridge for the soldiers," he says, in the hope he need not to kill anyone. “If we as Christians all stay at home or flee our country, the frontline will become a place of great lawlessness, sin and war crimes,” he reasons.

Another Christian, 34-year-old Andrey, says: „If I am called up, I will report to the war commissariat, but I would immediately say that I am not going". He knows well that he could face up to ten years in prison in that case, but Andrey has his mind made up: „Rather ten years in prison than killing someone”, he says bravely: „And I don't want to contribute to the war effort, which would mean I am jointly responsible for killing people".

In many Sunday services and home cell groups Christians came to often heated discussions about exactly this topic. How are Russian Christian men supposed to handle this situation? Hasn't God given the government authority to fight against evil? And are the Ukrainians really the evil against which it is justified to fight? Maybe not the Ukrainian army, but the neo-Nazi militias like Azov and Right Sector?

Stop evil

Leaders of Russian Baptists and bishops within the evangelical circles in Russia believe that in some cases the government has the right to fight. „While God forbids people to kill each other, God allows governments to use force to stop evil where they can,” Baptist leader Alexey Kolomiytsev writes. „Scripture commands us to protect the weak,” he said.

Indeed, many Christians in Russia will view the actions of the Russian military as protecting Russian speakers in Ukraine. Or even better: a fight against „evil" nationalist elements and defending Russia against the threat of the American-led NATO.

Other Christians, however, will emphasise the Western narrative that Russia has just invaded a sovereign country and is out for colonizing more territory. Depending on that, brothers make different choices.

In an official statement from Russian Pentecostals (CEF), the consistory writes: „One should act according to the Christian's own conscience”. The denomination calls on brothers and sisters to „treat with understanding” the decision of individual brothers and to refrain from any „condemnation and criticism”. However, the CEF is working with a group of lawyers to provide more clarity about the possibilities of not to be handed a 'Kalashnikov' on religious grounds.

The other option is to flee: According to Western estimates, no less than 180 thousand Russians did so last week. There were long lines at the border with Georgia, Kazakhstan and even Mongolia, among others. „There are no more hotel rooms to book,” said a young Russian, Maxim, who drove to Kazakhstan with his wife and child. Wealthier Russians flew to Turkey or Uzbekistan, causing airfare prices to become thousands of dollars more expensive in a short space of time.


The head of the Catholic Church in Russia, Archbishop Pavel (Paoli) Pezzi, decided to direct the Catholic faithful under his care through an open letter and has a similar message: „War has never been and never will be a means of solving problems that arise between peoples,” Pavel Pezzi began. He also quoted Pope Pius XII (1939): „We lose nothing through peace, and we can lose everything through war”.

The partial mobilization announced by President Vladimir Putin in mid-September turned the lives of many young Russians upside down. „It has presented many of our believers with a very serious moral choice,” Paoli Pezzi wrote. Russian men who don’t want to kill, have two options: spend ten years in a penal colony, or flee.

Yet there are also Russian Christians who think differently. Archbishop Pezzi did not call taking up arms in all cases a sin: „State authorities under certain circumstances have the right, but also the duty, to use weapons to protect the homeland.” Whether this is the case in Ukraine or not, Pezzi did (perhaps wisely) not elaborate. Ultimately, believing Russians must let their human conscience speak for themselves, he says, „in which the Christian is alone with God, and Whose right judgment he must always obey”.

However, the Catholic Church in Russia does call on the Russian authorities if a person of faith refuses to take up arms while being conscripted and called up. A right that is even included in the Russian constitution. „We call for its consistent observance,” said Archbishop Pezzi. Pezzi's appeal to Catholic priests in Russia to continue to pray above all for „peace", „reconciliation" and the „preservation of human lives".



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