Russia: Panic, protests follow Putin’s call for ‘partial mobilization’ | TBEN | 21.09.2022

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Russian President Vladimir Putin made a rare televised address to the Russian people on Wednesday morning when he announced a “partial mobilization”, saying the measure was necessary to protect the Russian people from what he called “the entire war machine of the collective West”. called Ukraine. .

Putin followed the announcement with repeated assurances that this mobilization is only “partial”. He stressed that it only concerns reservists and those who have served in the army before or have military experience.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu also addressed the public, saying that conscripts and students would not be called up to fight and that only 300,000 people would be called up under the new mobilization measure.

The move was not entirely unexpected. Discussions about whether Russia would need more soldiers took on a new urgency this month after Ukraine regained control of more than 6,000 square kilometers of territory that had been under Russian control.

Throughout the war, there have been reports of a drive in Russia to recruit more men to fight, including advertisements on job seekers’ websites promising quick money. In mid-September, images circulated on social media that reportedly showed Kremlin-affiliated businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin recruiting Russian prisoners to fight in Ukraine as part of the Wagner mercenary group.

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Putin’s announcement Wednesday made the call to arms official. But his order, published on the Kremlin’s website, raises questions.

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The document outlined the legal status of the soldiers called up in 10 points, but the seventh point was never published. Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov said it was the number of conscripts and for administrative use only. That has raised the question of whether the Kremlin alone plans to recruit 300,000 soldiers.

Running from concept cards

In Russia, not everyone accepted the Kremlin’s commitments. On the Telegram messaging app, groups with titles like “Where They Hand Out Concept Maps” and “Russia Concept Maps” became hubs of activity with tens of thousands of members. The groups shared messages about where the police could hide to hand out scratch cards.

“Moscow – Metro crossing from Chekhov to Pushkin station. Police walk around with scraps of paper and stop men,” reads a message, complete with a blurred photo of police and passengers. Another shows men wearing camouflage and reads “St. Petersburg – they’ve started coming through dorms.”

TBEN was unable to verify these messages before the publication of this article, but they reflect the panic that Putin’s announcement caused some today. A pro-Kremlin and pro-war Telegram channel responded to the draft map messages, accusing those who posted them of being pro-Ukrainian: “We’re not like you. And on our streets no one gets grabbed [by police].”

All about the wording?

Kremlin critics believe some panic over the “partial mobilization” could be justified.

“The most important news of the day is that Russia has announced the mobilization,” Sergei Krivenko, a former member of Russia’s Presidential Human Rights Council, told TBEN, explaining that what is “partial” today is universal in the blink of an eye. can become. “

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Krivenko, who currently heads the human rights group “Civil. Army. Rights”, pointed out that the numbers of conscripts named by the Kremlin have not been published in official documents.

Prominent Russian opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov shared these doubts. “‘Partial mobilization’ is exactly what it’s called,” Gudkov told TBEN. The politician had to flee the country in June for fear of arrest. “I have carefully read Putin’s entire order. They are mobilizing everyone,” he claimed, adding that there are simply categories of people who will be the first to be called up to fight.

“They are preparing additional cannon fodder. It is the latest funeral campaign that Putin has announced,” he said. “I wrote to a lot of people today, ‘Guys, get out of the country.'”

People look at a flight information display at Moscow's Vnukovo International Airport (Vladimir Gerdo/TASS/dpa/picture alliance)

Prices for flights from Russia skyrocketed after mobilization announcement

A rush to leave Russia

It seems that many people have come to the same conclusion as Gudkov. Local media reported that flights to leave Russia in the coming days to countries that do not require a visa sold out almost immediately, with prices for some tickets to destinations such as Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan reportedly rising to the equivalent of more than €2,000. ($1,970).

Russian opposition media outlet Meduza published an article titled “Where to Escape Russia Now,” listing countries and their entry requirements. European Union members Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have announced that they will not provide refuge to Russians fleeing Moscow’s mobilization. However, the ban of the Baltic States does not include dissidents or refugees.

A background of war

It is difficult to estimate how widespread the negative reaction to partial conscription is in Russian society. Denis Volkov of TBEN Russian pollster Levada Center says many people have become accustomed to “living in a conflict situation”, which seems to be in the “background” for many people for the time being, although the mobilization could “bring the conflict closer”. .”

Since the Russian army invaded Ukraine in February, Russia has also become increasingly authoritarian. Despite protesters facing tough laws, demonstrations against the “partial mobilization” have taken place across Russia, with more than 1,200 people arrested in 30 cities, according to rights group OVD Info. Hundreds of thousands have already signed a petition against partial and universal mobilization. These moves come despite “discrediting” the armed forces as a crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Larger demonstrations were unlikely, however, as Denis Volkov of TBEN Russian pollster Levada-Center said: “Mass protests are currently impossible in Russia. Even the idea of ​​it is something out of a fantasy.”

Edited by: Sean Sinico