Russians revolt over Putin’s war
■ Protests erupt over bid to draft 300,000 ■ Police hold 800 in violent crackdown ■ Terrified civilians head for the border
VlADIMIR Putin’s move to draft 300,000 troops sparked panic and fury in Russia last night.
Some terrified Russians scrambled to leave the country while others took to the streets where they met a brutal response from riot police.
Hundreds demonstrated against Putin’s plan to bulk up the military, with human rights monitoring groups saying that at least 800 were detained at rallies in 37 different cities.
‘Thousands of Russian men – our fathers, brothers and husbands – will be thrown into the meat grinder of war,’ said the Vesna anti-war coalition which called for protests. It came after Putin’s announcement of a partial mobilisation in an address to the nation.
Protesters chanted ‘life for our children’ at a march in Moscow, as riot police violently dragged some of them away.
In St Petersburg, video footage distributed on social media showed officers wearing body armour pushing back a group of democrats.
Footage of rallies and their violent suppression also emerged from major centres including Perm, Tomsk, Yekaterinburg and Novosibirsk. In one clip, a male protester is hauled into detention in Novosibirsk after shouting at police and FSB officers at a rally: ‘I am not going to die for Putin, or for you!’ He told the armed officers: ‘You know too well everything is f***** up!’
The man, apparently in his 20s, was loudly clapped by other protesters at the rare anti-war rally in Siberia’s unofficial capital.
The rallies last night are by far the biggest challenge to the regime since marches against the start of the invasion were put down by riot police. Since then, the population has remained quiescent, with the Russian economy coping with Western sanctions better than was expected.
Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition leader who is currently in prison, said Putin was sending 300,000 more Russians – the country’s first mobilisation since the Second World War – to their deaths.
‘It is clear that the criminal war is getting worse, deepening, and Putin is trying to involve as many people as possible in this,’ he said in a video message published by his lawyers. ‘ He wants to smear hundreds of thousands of people in this blood,’ he added.
There was opposition on social media from ordinary Russians. One Twitter user wrote: ‘I’m not going to go to war, go screw yourselves. Not only will I surrender right away, I’ll also show you the way to the Kremlin.’
Russian prosecutors had warned that anyone attending a demonstration against the presidential decree could face up to 15 years in jail.
The country’s compliant parliament, the Duma, passed draconian legislation earlier this year that prevents people spreading ‘fake news’ about the invasion of Ukraine.
This has meant that many Russians, unaware of scale of the failures in Ukraine and convinced that they are entirely the fault of the West, remain in favour of the war. The call-up stops short of full conscription, a move that would have risked damaging this support.
It also says nothing about a cap on numbers or about any exceptions, such as not recruiting students. Instead, it is left to regional heads to decide how to meet quotas. In theory, the net
‘I will surrender right away’
‘The criminal war is getting worse’
could be cast far wider than the Kremlin intends.
Russian officials said it would be announced ‘very soon’ those who would be exempt from its partial mobilisation.
Meanwhile, one-way tickets to visa- free destinations such as Georgia, Turkey and Dubai were sold out for days, with prices skyrocketing as Russian men of fighting age looked for a way to dodge being called up. Internet search engine giant Google said that ‘how to leave Russia’ topped its mostsearched terms on Tuesday and yesterday inside the country.
Most European carriers have axed their routes to Russia because of an EU flight embargo after Putin’s unprovoked and illegal invasion.
But Turkish Airlines, which has kept its direct Moscow flight, reported that single one-way economy tickets were sold out until
Sunday with prices soaring to between £ 1,300 and £ 2,400. A spokesman for Turkey’s flagship carrier said that it would lay on more flights if demand continued at this rate.
Although the Kremlin denied reports it was seeking to stop men of fighting age leaving the country, reports that domestic airlines were being told to stop selling tickets to men between the ages of 18 and 65 swept the country.
even avowed regime fanatics, such as Margarita Simonyan, editor of propaganda channel RT, were left confused by the mobilisation announcement. She said she still did not know whether travel abroad for men would be ‘restricted’ or what the ‘terms of service’ would be for those men who are mobilised.
Those who could not get a seat on a plane crashed the website of the state Russian railway company as they looked for alternative routes out of the country to avoid being sent to Ukraine.
Poland and the three Baltic states – Lithuania, Latvia, and estonia – have banned Russians with visas for the eU’s Schengen travel zone from entering their territory since the war started.
None of them has ruled out allowing Russians in on humanitarian grounds as political asylum seekers. But Latvian foreign minister edgars Rinkevics said yesterday Riga will not offer refuge to any Russians who simply want to dodge Putin’s draft.
It means Finland is the only land border where Russians can still cross into the eU with an ordinary tourist visa. Despite reports of lengthy queues at the Finnish border, authorities insisted there had been no unusual traffic.
A spokesman for Germany’s foreign ministry said the government there could ease entry requirements for Russians who want to escape being called up to fight in Ukraine.