When Ivan Fedotov left the ice arena after training, they were already waiting for him: men in camouflage clothes and masks. A few days later, the ice hockey star found himself in the Russian army. A dangerous precedent that should serve as a warning to others.

The Continental Hockey League (KHL) is the top division of ice hockey in Russia. One player in particular stood out in the 2021/22 season: Ivan Fedotov was promoted to the league’s best goalkeeper. With the ice hockey club CSKA Moscow (Central Sports Club of the Moscow Army), he won the Gagarin Cup, which is awarded to the winner of the KHL. And as part of the Russian team, he won the silver medal at this year’s Winter Olympics.

But now his career has come to an abrupt end. On July 1, a group of men without any badges ambushed the 25-year-old in the parking lot of an ice arena in Saint Petersburg. A journalist from the sports broadcaster Match TV witnessed the scene. Anna Andronova accompanies the athlete that day. “We filmed all day. On Friday we had arranged a meeting at the ice palace for 9 a.m. We met, filmed a training session on the ice and in the gym and then discussed the mistakes with the coach,” she said.

After shooting in the ice arena, they wanted to shoot an interview in a park. The athlete would have left the ice arena with her and the cameraman. “The parking lot was already full of people. At first glance, there were about ten,” reported the journalist. Two of the ominous men wore masks and camouflage clothing, the rest were in civilian clothes. Three cars and a van without a license plate would also have been waiting in front of the sports arena. After a short dialogue, Fedotov was dragged into the waiting van.

From training to the army

The goalkeeper of the Russian national team had previously said that he was training in the arena for the first time. “So it looks like these officials knew everything and were waiting for him in front of the Ice Palace. I was shaking so much. I didn’t even know who these people were,” Andronova said.

It turned out that it was the officers of the Russian law enforcement agency who ambushed Fedotov. On behalf of the Russian army, they took him to an armed forces recruitment office. The accusation: Fedotov is said to have evaded conscription to the army. In Russia, every man between the ages of 18 and 28 is conscripted. Every year, more than 300,000 young Russians are called up for two-year military service. Those who dodge it face a prison sentence of up to two years.

Treacherous actions by the authorities

It is more than doubtful that Fedotov was guilty of this crime. The actions of the authorities bear witness to this.

After several hours in the army recruitment office on Zagorodny Prospekt in Saint Petersburg, the hockey player complained of abdominal pain, local newspaper Fontanka reports. Fedotov was then taken to one of the city hospitals in an ambulance. After that, his trail was lost.

After several days of complete uncertainty, the news came last Monday: Fedotov had been sent to Severomorsk for army service. The Ria Nowosti news agency referred to information provided by the ice hockey player’s lawyer. “Ivan was probably sent to Severomorsk. They took him out of the hospital at night and there is no further information,” he is quoted as saying.

At the same time, the Telegram channel “Mutko protiv” published a denial from the lawyer. According to him, he did not tell anyone about Severomorsk. He has no connection to Fedotov and does not even know if he was taken anywhere.

In this context, the report by Ria Nowosti looks like deliberately placed information with which the Russian authorities want to retain sovereignty in the narrative in this case. The crime story about Fedotow has long since become a political issue. Or rather, he was from the start.

Example by Iwan Fedotow

Fedotov was to do his military service as a player for CSKA Moscow. The practice of “drafting” the country’s best players into service was used by the army club as early as Soviet times. The club’s board of directors is now headed by none other than Igor Sechin, the head of Rosneft and a loyal follower of Vladimir Putin.

However, the contract with the army team ended on May 1st. The goalkeeper therefore signed a contract with the American NHL club Philadelphia Flyers. He should start there in July. But the CSKA apparently didn’t want to let him go. “Maybe this is revenge for wanting to go to Philadelphia,” suggested prominent sports commentator Dmitry Guberniev in an interview with independent Russian-language television station RTVi. In his eyes, the actions against Fedotov resembled a public flogging.

A look at the legal situation supports this theory. The authorities justify the move to forcibly conscript Fedotov with the fact that he is said to have evaded conscription to the army. “If Fedotov were a refuser, they would have sued him and not sent him to the army,” Vladimir Trignin, chairman of the Moscow Military Bar Association, explained the legal situation in an interview with the sports magazine “sports.ru”. In addition, in Fedotov’s case one cannot say that he shied away from military service. This is a “criminal act. And if criminal proceedings had been initiated, he would not have been drafted into the army. So if he was drafted, there are no charges,” emphasizes the military law expert.

“Under our constitution, a citizen is innocent until a court decision has entered into force. But citizens who are criminally charged or under investigation are not called up for military service. They cannot be drafted,” Trignin said.

“Fedotov quarreled with the army”

An anonymous source from Ria Nowosti also reported that Fedotov was forcibly drafted because he quarreled with representatives of the CSKA army club. “In the national teams of Russia, the required athletes of military age are entered into lists, and from these lists they are then drafted into the army sports teams. This is how they are drafted into the army, this is done by the Ministry of Defense and partly by the Ministry of Interior”, said the informant, thereby confirming the common practice through which Fedotov also came to the CSKA. As a rule, there are also no problems once the period of service has been completed. Fedotov himself was responsible for his difficulties. “Fedotov quarreled with the army. It’s all a matter of contacts, the ambitions of the goalkeeper himself and another person,” said the agency’s interlocutor, hinting at a conflict with an ominous CSKA figure.

“This is a very dangerous precedent”

The sports commentator Guberniew sees a frightening development in the crime thriller about the ice hockey star: “This is a very dangerous precedent. Because young people who are now 15 to 17 years old and play ice hockey will leave the country so as not to go into such a unpleasant story.” The people behind the actions against Fedotov “don’t care about Russia, the reputation of the country and the reputation of Russian sport. They don’t care about ice hockey or Fedotov. The situation is just scandalous. I’m appalled that the Hockey community is silent.”

The media manager and founder of the sports magazine “sports.ru” Dmitri Navoscha also sees a symbolic turning point in the Fedotov case. In his opinion, the conditions that once characterized the Soviet Union are returning. Those who profited from the Putin regime, like athletes, would now feel for themselves that the system not only brings advantages but also unpleasant consequences. “This also includes the loss of any civil rights at the moment when you get in the way of your superiors,” he commented on the case to Alexei Navalny’s staff on their YouTube channel.

From now on it is clear: “Even with athletes, the most unpredictable way can be dealt with if their superiors no longer like them.”

Banished to the end of the world

In the meantime, the first pictures have appeared, which should show Fedotov at the place of his army service. Accordingly, he is with a military unit in Severodvinsk in the Arkhangelsk region. The local Saint Petersburg newspaper “Fontanka” reports that the athlete was taken to the 907th training center of the Navy High Command. According to the publication, he will stay there until September. After that it will be decided where he will serve.

The Tass news agency, citing a law enforcement source, wrote that Fedotov could be sent on duty to Novaya Zemlya Island. The almost uninhabited archipelago lies in the Arctic Ocean and is a preferred place for housing opposition figures.

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