Tears and protest as Russian mobilization gets underway

As the first phase of Russia’s new “partial mobilization’ kicked off yesterday, videos appeared on social media purporting to show newly mobilized men preparing to be deployed.

In the city of Neryungi — six time zones east of Ukraine — a community video channel posted clips of families saying goodbye to a large group of men as they boarded buses.

The video shows a woman crying and hugging her husband as he reaches for his daughter’s hand from the bus window.

Police arrested protesters in 38 cities in Russia on Wednesday. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)

Other videos showed more men apparently awaiting transport in the Yakutiya region, a vast Siberian region, and at Magadan Airport in Russia’s far east.

CNN has not been able to independently geolocate or date all of the videos posted.

Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this week called for “partial mobilization” of the Russian population to support the war in Ukraine, at a time when a sudden counter-offensive from Kiev has recaptured thousands of square kilometers of territory and put Moscow at a disadvantage. Experts say Russia’s armed forces are significantly depleted.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said 300,000 reservists would be called up.

As an early sign of how seriously Moscow is stepping up its efforts, Russia’s Human Rights Council has proposed that immigrants from Central Asian countries who have had Russian citizenship for less than 10 years will undergo compulsory military service in Russia for a year.

“We are preparing proposals for new citizens of the Russian Federation who have had Russian citizenship for less than 10 years to perform compulsory military service for one year for people from Central Asian countries: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan,” wrote councilor Kirill Kabanov. yesterday on Telegram.

Refusal to perform military service would result in the deprivation of Russian citizenship not only for a person conscripted for military service, but also for members of his family, he added.

A woman reacts as police detain protesters during a protest against mobilization in Moscow. (AP/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

In his speech, Putin said those with military experience would be conscripted, stressing that the accompanying decree – which had already been signed – was necessary to “protect our homeland, its sovereignty and its territorial integrity”.

But the decree appears to allow for broader mobilization than he suggested in his speech. Ekaterina Schulmann, a Russian political scientist and associate fellow at the Chatham House think tank, said on Telegram that while the decree “describes the mobilization as partial,” it “sets no parameters for this partisanship, either territorially or categorically.”

“According to this text, anyone can be called up, except those who work in the military-industrial complex and who are exempt for the period of their employment. The fact that the mobilization applies only to reservists or those with particularly necessary skills is stated in the address, but not in the decree.”

Russian human rights lawyer Pavel Chikov said the decree describes mobilization “in the broadest terms”.

“The president leaves it to the discretion of the defense minister. So it is basically the Russian defense ministry that will decide who will be sent to war, from where and in what numbers,” Chikov said on Telegram.

After the speech, at least 1,300 people were detained across Russia on Wednesday for participating in nationwide anti-war protests — some were immediately conscripted into the military, according to a monitoring group, after leader Vladimir Putin announced a “partial mobilization” of civilians for his faltering invasion of Russia. Ukraine.

Riot police detain a protester during a protest against the mobilization in Moscow, Russia. (AP)

Images and videos show police cracking down on protesters in multiple cities, with footage showing several protesters at a demonstration in central Moscow being swept up by police and authorities in St. Petersburg in an attempt to curb a crowd shouting ‘no mobilization’ outside Isakiivskiy Cathedral.

Police arrested protesters in 38 cities in Russia on Wednesday, according to figures released shortly after midnight by the independent monitoring group OVD-Info. The group’s spokeswoman, Maria Kuznetsova, told CNN by phone that at at least four police stations in Moscow, some of the protesters arrested by riot police had been drafted directly into the Russian army.

One of the detainees has been threatened with prosecution for refusing to be summoned, she said. The government has said the penalty for refusing the draft is now 15 years in prison. Of the more than 1,300 people detained nationwide, more than 500 were in Moscow and more than 520 in St. Petersburg, according to OVD-Info.

Just over half of the detained protesters whose names have been made public are women, OVD-Info also said, making it the largest anti-government protest in recent history. However, the watchdog said the full extent of the arrests is unknown.

Nine journalists and 33 minors are also among those detained, it said, adding that one of the minors was “relentlessly beaten” by police.

A protester jumps on a police officer to prevent his friend from being detained during a protest against mobilization in Moscow, Russia. (AP)

The Ghost of Nuclear Weapons

Putin also brought up the specter of nuclear weapons in his speech and said he would use “all the means at our disposal” if he believed Russia’s “territorial integrity” would be compromised. He also endorsed referendums on accession to Russia that Russia-appointed leaders in four occupied regions of Ukraine announced this week.

Concern among Russian citizens was palpable on Wednesday, as travel agency websites showed a dramatic increase in demand for flights to places where Russians do not require visas. Flight sales websites indicate that direct flights to such countries are sold out at least until Friday.

Yesterday, a spokesman for the European Commission acknowledged that there were numerous requests from Russian citizens hoping to enter the countries of the European Union. They said the EU plans to take a common position on the issue.

The European Commission also noted that, for now, each Member State will have to assess access requests on a case-by-case basis, adding that the management of the EU’s external borders must be carried out in accordance with EU law and comply with “fundamental rights.” and all existing legislation for asylum procedures.”

The protests in Russia, most of which seemed to have attracted several dozen people, were another strong signal of the desperation some felt. Dissent is usually quickly crushed in Russia and authorities have further curtailed freedom of expression after the invasion of Ukraine.

People support protesters during a protest against mobilization in Moscow, Russia. (AP)

Social media footage showed several protesters in Ulan Ude in Eastern Siberia holding placards reading “No to war! No to mobilization!” and “Our husbands, fathers and brothers do not want to kill other husbands and fathers!”

“We want our fathers, husbands and brothers to live… and not leave their children orphans. Stop the war and don’t take our people with you!” said one protester.

Video from Yekaterinburg in western Russia showed police scuffle with several protesters. CNN was unable to independently verify the images from both cities.

Another video, posted by a journalist from the Moscow internet publication The Village, shows dozens of people on Arbatskaya Street chanting “Let him go” while a man is dragged along.

Moscow’s prosecutor’s office also warned citizens on Wednesday not to participate in protests or spread information calling for their participation — reminding people they could face up to 15 years in prison.

When asked yesterday about reports of people being detained at anti-war rallies being summoned for military service, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the practice “isn’t against the law. There is no violation of the law here.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses the nation
Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses the nation in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, September 21, 2022. (Russian Presidential Press Service via AP)

Putin’s announcement was condemned on Wednesday by Western leaders, many of whom met at the opening of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York.

In a rare joint statement, British Prime Minister Liz Truss and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said they both agree Putin’s announcement of a partial mobilization of Russian citizens is a sign of “weakness”.

European Union foreign ministers agreed in New York to proceed with a new round of sanctions against Russia, EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell told reporters.

Ukraine remained defiant in the face of Putin’s announcement, with President Volodymyr Zelensky telling the UNGA in a pre-recorded speech on Wednesday that Russia “was afraid of real (peace) negotiations” and pointing out what he described as Russian “lies”.

Russia “talks about negotiations, but announces military mobilization,” Zelensky said. “Russia wants war.”

Yesterday, German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said Putin’s “partial mobilization” would only bolster the country’s support for Ukraine. French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu said his country would continue to support Ukraine in weapons and training, but added that France needed cooperation within NATO to do so.

Ukrainian soldiers hug each other as Russians retreat

Meanwhile, analysis by researchers at the Institute for the Study of War said the move will have no apparent impact on the immediate outcome of the war.

The analysis said it would take weeks or months to get reservists ready for battle, Russian reservists are “poorly trained to begin with”, and the “deliberate phases” of deployment outlined by Russia’s defense minister probably “any sudden influx of Russian troops that could dramatically change the tide of the war.”

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