Rudi Friedrich (Connection, Germany)

After graduating from high school, Rudi Friedrich did an apprenticeship as a bricklayer, then studied sociology. He joined the German Peace Society – United War Resisters (DFG-VK) through his civilian service.

When tens of thousands fled to Germany at the beginning of the 1990s from the wars in the Balkans or Iraq, Friedrich founded Connection with others to advocate for international conscientious objectors (COs). He is internationally respected for his knowledge and experience. He works with COs from Latin America, East Europe, Africa and Asia. Actually he organized a hotline for COs from Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.

Time and again, he has also introduced the topic with readings and other artistic forms.

“Run Soldier Run” – Scenic Reading with Music
Together with Talib Richard Vogl, he has been developing scenic readings on the topic of international conscientious objection for several years now. [Photos: Connection e.V.]

At the ‘Not Our War’ event Rudi will talk about the situation of CO, deserters in Russia and will do also a workshop where he will give information on how to support these War Resisters from Russia as well as from Ukraine and Belarus.


Press Release on the Ukrainian CO, Ruslan Kotsaba from July 2022 and an article by the German press service epd

Rudi Friedrich’s speech at the event

Hello everyone. I am happy to be here with you today.

I want to tell you more about the issue of conscientious objection and  asylum, especially in relation to the war in Ukraine. I am Rudi Friedrich from Connection, a German-based organization that works for conscientious objectors and deserters worldwide.

On April 6 the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, addressed the Russian soldiers, saying: “I have just one message for the Russian soldiers on the battlefield: if you want no part in killing your Ukrainian brothers and sisters, then lay down your arms.” Charles Michel, as president of the European Council, represents the heads of government of the European Union. He also noted in his statement that to grant them asylum would be a valuable idea.

It is already clear that with this one-sided statement he is taking a stand for the refusers of one side of the war. Presumably he understands the support of the Russian deserters as a means to act against the Russian aggression and thus as a part of the warfare. We as Connection see the war as aggression of Russia as well, however, we are concerned with all persons who, on whatever side, refuse to serve in the war. For us it’s clear: desertion, draft evasion, conscientious objection and refusal to obey orders is a significant part of the resistance to war.

At present, Ukrainian objectors and deserters get a humanitarian residence permit in the EU, a timely limited shelter. Currently they are not in danger. More to this in the workshop.

While Ukrainian citizens get this status. Russian objectors and deserters are not safe. Almost nothing has happened since the statement of Charles Michel. Only some individual countries are offering ways to support them.

We had originally assumed that on the European level for them a regulation of the European legislation is relevant, the so-called Qualification Directive. It regulates who can be recognized as a refugee. There is a passage stating that refugee protection should be granted in cases of  prosecution for refusing to participate in wars or actions that violate international law. That would be the case for Russian objectors and deserters. This could also be the case if, as Belarusian organizations have feared for months, Belarus also enters the war and sends its own troops to Ukraine.

The European Court of Justice, the highest court in the European Union, has already ruled twice on this passage of the Qualification Directive. This has defined a number of conditions which, in view of the current situation, make it unlikely that protection can actually be achieved for the persons concerned. They would have to have applied for conscientious objection to military service in advance, which was rejected or at least did not prevent them from being sent to the war. They would have to prove that they were  recruited and that there was a serious threat of deployment to war. Hardly anyone will be able to meet these criteria. These judgments in fact hinder the recognition of legitimate claims.

The German government went another way. declaring that Russian deserters should be recognized as refugees because their desertion is considered a political act in Russia, for which they would face heavy penalties. This seems to be more practicable. This assumption may indeed lead to refugee protection according to current case law. Nevertheless, deserters will have to prove this in each individual case, so the hurdles remain high. Unfortunately all draft evaders are excluded from the regulation. As far we are aware, this regulation is applied only in Germany.

The question remains as to how draft evaders are dealt with. Draft evaders are persons who are in principle liable to military service, but who have evaded the obligation to register, to attend a medical check or to attend other appointments at the military before being called up for military service. They were thus clever enough to evade the grasp of the authorities in a timely fashion. If they now manage to enter the European Union and apply for asylum, none of the regulations will apply to them. The Qualification Directive would provide no recourse nor would a regulation like the German government’s, because it explicitly refers to desertion. This means, in effect, that the vast majority of those refusing to go to war in Ukraine will remain unprotected.

In May we established contact with a group of Russian draft evaders who had fled to Turkey. They turned to us because their status in Turkey was not safe. Through diplomatic channels their requests were forwarded to all the representations of the European governments to get visa. They received either no reply at all or a rejection of their plea. It was repeatedly stated that there is a valid procedure in Turkey for recognition as a refugee. The draft evaders themselves, on the other hand, feared that they would be deported because of the Turkish government’s policy towards Russia.

If we look at the numbers of Russian draft evaders and deserters who are abroad, we find that really only a fraction of them have come to the European Union. We estimate, that some ten thousands have fled to escape participation in the war. But in the European Union since the beginning of the war there are only a few thousand asylum applications from Russian citizens, among them,  about 1,400 deserters and draft evaders.

I am very glad that we have a European network of groups and organizations working on these issues and supporting those affected. We are in preparation of a signature campaign that will start on September 21st. The signature campaign will demand protection and asylum for persecuted conscientious objectors, draft evaders and deserters from all sides as well as the full implementation of the right to conscientious objection in Ukraine.  Support and participation is explicitly desired. Hope to see you in the workshop.