Demonstrations, editorial errors and exodus: Putin's mobilization on a chaotic departure

Demonstrations, editorial errors and exodus: Putin’s mobilization on a chaotic departure

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According to a local leader, some residents of the Republic of Sakha, in the Russian Far East, were recruited “by mistake” when they were not eligible for mobilization, such as the fathers of minor children.

“All those who were mobilized by mistake should be fired. This work has already begun,” Republican leader Aisen Nikolaev said in a Telegram message, following a meeting on the presidential decree on partial mobilization .

Meanwhile, videos circulating on Russian social media appear to reveal the tension, sadness and confusion the project – which began after an announcement on Wednesday – has sparked, with scenes of families saying emotional goodbyes and others of recruits vying to be called up.

Video from Friday appears to show police and National Guard members engaged in scuffles with a crowd as recruited men board a bus in the Omsk region of Russian Siberia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin dramatically raised the stakes of his assault on Ukraine for ordinary Russians on Wednesday, announcing an immediate “partial mobilization” in a bid to bolster his faltering invasion after Ukrainian gains.

The mobilization would only affect Russians with previous military experience, according to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who said 300,000 reservists would be called up. However, the decree itself gives much broader terms, sowing fears among Russians of a broader project in the future.

Activist groups, such as the Free Buryatia Foundation, said ethnic minorities in Russia were disproportionately mobilized. CNN has geolocated videos of some of these men mobilized in regions of the Russian Far East.

The announcement of the mobilization sparked anti-war demonstrations across the country, which were quickly suppressed by the police. At least 1,472 protesters were arrested in dozens of cities across Russia on Saturday, according to independent protest monitoring group OVD-Info.
It has also sparked an exodus from Russia as military-age men flee the country rather than risk conscription, with video footage showing long lines of traffic at land border crossings to several neighboring countries and air fares rising and sold-out flights in recent days.

Ksenia Thorstrom, a Russian municipal deputy from St. Petersburg who left Russia, called the mobilization a “very unpopular decision” in comments to CNN on Saturday.

“I didn’t expect Putin to do this,” Thorstrom said, pointing to protests across the country and adding that “when the first shock passes, the resistance will increase.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in his Saturday night speech, called Russia’s partial mobilization a “mobilization to the graves” and urged soldiers to surrender.

Soldiers who surrender will be ‘treated in a civilized manner’, Zelensky promised, saying no one in Russia will know that their ‘surrender was voluntary’ and whether they are ‘afraid to return to Russia and do not want an exchange’ . Ukraine “will find a way to ensure that as well”.

Reinforced rules

But Russia has taken steps to deter the military from dodging the draft or disobeying orders with new laws.

Putin on Saturday signed several amendments to the country’s Criminal Code strengthening penalties for military service during times of mobilization, martial law or war, which are considered “aggravating factors in criminal convictions”, according to language published on the government legal portal. This follows the introduction of amendments by the lower parliamentary body of the State Duma on Tuesday.

Under the new rules, Russians who drop out or fail to report for military service could face up to 10 years in prison.

“Federal law also introduces criminal liability for military personnel for voluntary surrender, as well as criminal liability for plunder during martial law, wartime, or under conditions of armed conflict or combat operations” reads a statement from the Kremlin about the amendments.

Putin also signed a law on Saturday that would make it easier for foreigners serving in the Russian military to apply for Russian citizenship, eliminating the need for such applicants to present a residence permit, as previously required.

In a separate move, Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Saturday it had replaced its deputy defense minister, appointing Colonel-General Mikhail Mizintsev – a Ukrainian officer who led the siege of its eastern port city of Mariupol – for the post.

Ongoing “fictitious” referendums

The mobilization coincides with voting in a series of referendums to join Russia, which Moscow-backed leaders say are taking place in four Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine from Friday.

The referendums have been widely denounced by Western governments as illegitimate and a political ploy at a time when Russia has been losing ground to Ukraine, particularly in the northeast of the country.

They could also pave the way for Russian annexation of the regions, allowing Moscow to frame the ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive as an attack on Russia itself, potentially giving it a pretext to step up its assault on Ukraine. Putin said last week that he would use “all means at our disposal” if he felt Russia’s “territorial integrity” was threatened.

Overall, turnout on the first day of voting in referendums in the self-proclaimed people’s republics of Donetsk and Lugansk and in the Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions exceeded 15%, said Alexander Kholodov, deputy chairman of the Russian state monitoring body, the Commission on Security and Interaction. part of the Public Supervisory Commission, according to RIA Novosti.

Ukraine has demanded an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council on Russia’s “mock” referendums in the occupied territories of Ukraine, according to Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko.

“Russia must be held accountable for its renewed attempts to alter Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders in violation of the UN Charter,” Nikolenko said in a tweet on Saturday.

Josh Pennington contributed to this article.

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