MOSCOW, July 16 (Itar-Tass) - Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday signed the Decree “On Granting the Clergy the Right to Deferment from Military Service.” According to the document, up to 150 priests who have taken Holy Orders, and occupying a position in religious organisations or the post of assistant commander (chief) for the work with the faithful soldiers – will be annually freed from conscription into the army for the time of execution of their duties of the post.
Deferment of call-up will be granted only to those priests who “are trained or have undergone special training required to perform duties as an assistant commander for the work with soldiers believers,” Novye Izvestia writes. The decree does not specify the religious affiliation of the clergy. The RF Defence Ministry has not provided a comment on the decree. According to the ministry, there were 24 Orthodox priests in the army this June. Meanwhile, the total number of priests the army is ready to take is 224.
The decree of the RF president has evoked a negative response of some human rights activists, Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes. Member of the Presidential Council on Human Rights Sergei Krivenko stated that this document “serves as a pretext for other young people (athletes, musicians, promising scientists, specialists of the military-industrial complex) to also claim the right to deferment of military service.” Krivenko is certain that “human rights advocates and many members of our society will adamantly oppose president’s decision.”
“I’m not against granting priests deferment of call-up,” executive secretary of the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers, member of the Presidium of the Public Council under the RF Ministry of Defence Valentina Melnikova told the publication. There are not so many of them, they do important work for the spiritual revival of our society. But I am against priests in the staff of military units that are subordinate to the commanders, as the presidential decree stipulates. What kind of a position for a priest is this – “assistant commander [chief] for work with believers?” The Church, Melnikova stressed, is separated from the state, and representatives of religions should not be subordinate to commanders: “as in this case they would be not priests, but ordinary political officers. They should work with the believers. And if a soldier is an atheist? What to do then?”