Hundreds of protesters have been arrested for rallying against the Kremlin’s decision to bring in thousands of extra troops in the war against Ukraine. OVD-Info, a human rights group in Russia, totaled the number at more than 1,300. St. Petersburg and Moscow witnessed the largest numbers of arrests.
Many were held in Irkutsk and other Siberian cities and Yekaterinburg. Vladimir Putin’s announcement was followed by a huge number of flight bookings out of Russia. Pictures of long queues at border posts were posted on social media, and the search for “how to leave Russia” skyrocketed on Google. Putin ordered a partial mobilization– 300,000 military reservists (not conscripts) will be drafted to support Russian forces who have recently suffered battlefield reverses in Ukraine.
The move was followed by the Ukrainian announcement of snap referendums on joining Russia.
Mr. Putin also stressed that he would use all available means to protect Russia, implying the use of nuclear weapons. These remarks were condemned by Ukraine and its allies.
Disputes broke out in Moscow as protesters were being arrested. The prosecutor’s office of Moscow issued a warning that calls on the internet to join unauthorized street protests or participation in such protests could lead to up to 15 years in jail.
They could be booked under laws against discrediting the armed forces, spreading “fake news” related to the nation’s military operation in Ukraine, or encouraging minors to protest. The tough penalties of Russia for spreading “disinformation” have reduced public anti-war protests. Vesna, the anti-war opposition group, called for widespread protests, and it reported many arrests across Russia on Telegram. A Yekaterinburg video clip shows police violently stuffing protesters into a bus.
The action is called “no to mogilisation” by Vesna– since “mogila” is Russian for a grave.
All this while, flights to popular destinations like Instanbul in Turkey and Yerevan in Armenia were booked, with the remaining seats reaching sky-high prices. Flights from Moscow to Istanbul or Dubai were priced as high as 9,200 euros for a one-way economy class after Mr. Putin’s announcement.
The mobilization move of the Kremlin follows heavy losses in Ukraine, with Kyiv’s forces recapturing a huge area east of Kharkiv.
Putin, in his control of state media, has ensured that most of the Russians support his claim that Ukraine’s “neo-Nazi” government and Nato are a threat to Russia and that ethnic Russians have to be defended. The reality is that Ukraine’s government was democratically elected, and there are no far-right politicians. Since media restrictions are so strict, the scale of Russia’s opposition to the Kremlin line on Ukraine is not easy to gauge.
The pro-Putin regional governors in Russia, who are now organizing the mobilization, voiced support for it.