RUSSIA: Hundreds of distressed and distraught Russians have been detained by authorities as protests against Russia’s new “partial mobilisation” continue across the country, an independent rights group has confirmed.
OVD-Info said 724 people were arrested across 32 different cities on Saturday.
Widespread mass demonstrations have erupted and spread like wildfire across the country since President Vladimir Putin announced Russia’s plans to draft 300,000 men to fight as part of the “special military operation” in Ukraine.
Unsanctioned rallies are banned under Russian law. But Putin’s unpredictable move, which is considered by some to be an indicator of Russia’s decreasing military personnel, has been unsuccessful in bolstering the Russian spirit.
Able-bodied, young Russian men now feel threatened and enraged that they have been forcefully signed up to fight in someone else’s war, forced to leave their homes and jobs to eventually end up dead.
Putin’s decision to draft civilians into the military has sparked large-scale protests in urban areas, with more than 1,000 people being detained at demonstrations earlier this week.
In Moscow, the news agency AFP reported witnessing one demonstrator shouting “we are not cannon fodder” as she was arrested by officers.
And in St Petersburg, Russia’s second city, one man told reporters: “I don’t want to go to war for Putin.” Seventy-year-old Natalya Dubova told AFP that she opposed the war and confessed she was “afraid for young people” being ordered to the front.
Some of those arrested on Saturday were reportedly handed their draft papers and ordered to report to recruiting centres while being held by security officials. The Kremlin defended the practice earlier this week, saying “it isn’t against the law”.
Meanwhile, Moscow has also approved harsh new punishments for those accused of dereliction of duty once drafted.
On Saturday, Putin also signed fresh decrees imposing punishments of up to 10 years of imprisonment for any soldier caught surrendering, attempting to flee the military or refusing to fight.
The president has also signed new orders that will grant Russian citizenship to foreign nationals who sign up to serve a year in the country’s military. Many who consider Putin’s desperation as a telling sign of Moscow’s severe shortage of troops say the decree bypasses the usual requirement of five years of residency in the country.
Elsewhere in the country, young Russians are desperate to flee mobilisation by seeking to leave the country. While local Russian officials have admitted to a significant surge in cars trying to cross with nearly 2,500 vehicles waiting at one checkpoint, the Kremlin has refused to acknowledge these reports and called them “fake” on Thursday.
“Our people don’t have the correct information about the situation in Ukraine,” he said. “Also, what I can say about people that I’ve been speaking with… it’s simple, people don’t want to go to war.”
Meanwhile, Finland, Russia’s neighbouring country has observed a sudden rise in Russians seeking to enter the country, as Matti Pitkaniitty, a spokesperson for the country’s Border Guard, confirmed that the number of Russians arriving at the borders has doubled since last week.
On Friday, the government announced plans to stop Russian tourists from entering the country.
“The aspiration and purpose are to significantly reduce the number of people coming to Finland from Russia,” President Sauli Niinistö told the state broadcaster.
Several other neighbouring states have already ruled out offering asylum to Russians seeking to avoid the draft.
“Many Russians who now flee Russia because of mobilisation were fine with killing Ukrainians,” Latvia’s Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs said. “They did not protest then. It is not right to consider them as conscientious objectors.”
On Friday, the Kremlin notified that certain professions will be exempt from the mandatory military call-up, which included IT workers, bankers and journalists working for the state media.
But some still doubt the truth of these facts and reports have been emerging that the amount designated for military conscription is much higher than the 300,000 limits at the moment.
Margarita Simonyan, the editor of the state-run media outlet RT, posted to Twitter a list of elderly and disabled citizens ordered to report for duty.