San Francisco Chronicle
Protests erupt after Putin orders more troops
KYIV, Ukraine — Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial mobilization of reservists Wednesday, taking a risky and deeply unpopular step that follows humiliating setbacks for his troops nearly seven months after invading Ukraine.
The first such call-up in Russia since World War II heightened tensions with the Western backers of Ukraine, who derided it as an act of weakness and desperation.
The move also sent some Russians scrambling to buy plane tickets out of the country, and hundreds of people were arrested at antiwar demonstrations across the country.
In his seven-minute nationally televised address, Putin also warned the West that he isn't bluffing over using everything at his disposal to protect Russia — an apparent reference to his nuclear arsenal. He has previously told the West not to back Russia against the wall and has rebuked NATO countries for supplying weapons to Ukraine.
The Kremlin has struggled to replenish its troops in Ukraine; there have even been reports of widespread recruitment in prisons.
The total number of reservists to be called up could be as high as 300,000, officials said. However, Putin's decree authorizing the partial mobilization, which took effect immediately, offered few details, raising suspicions that the draft could be broadened at any moment. Notably, one clause was kept secret.
Despite Russia's harsh laws against criticizing the military and the war, protests erupted across the country. More than 800 Russians were arrested in anti-war demonstrations in 37 cities, including Moscow and St. Petersburg, according to the independent Russian human rights group OVD-Info.
As protest calls circulated online, the Moscow prosecutor's office warned that organizing or participating in such actions could lead to up to 15 years in prison. Authorities issued similar warnings ahead of other protests recently. Wednesday's were the first nationwide anti-war protests since the fighting began in late February.
Other Russians responded by trying to leave the country, and flights out quickly became booked.