The 34-year-old soldier arrived in Roissy on Sunday via Tunisia and met with agents from the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (Ofpra) on Monday.
The reason ? At the beginning of August, the paratrooper, who had re-enlisted last year in the 56th regiment of airborne troops based in Crimea after having left the ranks of the army for some time, published on the social network Vkontakte a 141-page account denouncing the state of Russian troops and the war in Ukraine.
“When I learned that the command was asking that I be sentenced to fifteen years in prison for false information (against the Russian army, editor’s note), I understood that I would not achieve anything here and that my lawyers could do nothing for me in Russia,” Pavel Filatiev told AFP, who met him on Monday in the waiting area for asylum seekers in Roissy.
His text, entitled “ZOV” – which means “call” in Russian and at the same time recalls the letters painted on Russian armored vehicles in Ukraine – criticizes the offensive launched on February 24.
“We did not have the moral right to attack another country, which is more the people who are closest to us”, writes in this story the soldier, himself the son of a soldier who had served in this same 56th regiment.
– “Corruption” and “I don’t care” –
He depicts a tattered Russian army, barely equipped and lacking in training, “in the same state as Russia has become in recent years”.
“From year to year, the bazaar and corruption become more and more pregnant”, explains Pavel Filatiev. “Corruption, disorder, I don’t care have exceeded the limits of what is acceptable,” he adds, recounting that he was quickly disillusioned after signing his contract.
“The first few months, I was in shock. I told myself it’s not possible and, at the end of the year, I understood that I did not want to serve in such an army”, confesses the soldier .
However, he does not resign and finds himself on the front line once what the Kremlin calls “the special operation” is launched. With his regiment, he went first to Kherson, then to Mykolaiv, two towns on the shores of the Black Sea.
“If the army was in peacetime already messed up, corrupt and I don’t care, it is obvious that in times of war, of fighting, it will appear even more and the lack of professionalism will become even more visible”, he said, believing that the Russian government had played a major role “in destroying the army inherited from the USSR”.
– “Difficult to leave” –
After two months of fighting during which he assures that his regiment did not take part in any exactions against civilians or prisoners, Pavel Filatiev is evacuated due to an infection in the right eye and hospitalized in Sevastopol, Crimea .
He tries to resign for health reasons, but his hierarchy asks him to return to the front, threatening to open an investigation against him if he does not do so.
At the beginning of August, he leaves Crimea and publishes his diary on the internet. After wandering from town to town in Russia to avoid detection, he eventually left the country.
“Why am I telling all this in detail? I want people in Russia and around the world to understand how this war happened, why people continue to wage it,” says Pavel Filatiev. “It’s not because they want to fight, it’s because they find themselves in such conditions that it is very difficult for them to leave”.
“The army, like Russian society, is terrified,” he says, estimating that only 10% of soldiers support the war, the majority of soldiers conversely fearing to speak openly. “Those who are against the war are afraid to say it, to leave, are afraid of the consequences”.
If he obtains refugee status, he says he wants to act “to make sure that this war ends”. “I want as few young Russian men as possible to go there and get mixed up in this, to know what’s going on there.”