Protests, misspellings, and mass exodus: the beginning of a chaotic Putin’s mobilization


Russia’s “partial mobilization” for its war in Ukraine is off to a chaotic start amid protests, crafting mistakes and an exodus of citizens fleeing Russia, as the Kremlin toughens rules around evading military orders.

Some residents in Russia’s Far Republic of Sakha were “accidentally” recruited despite not being eligible to mobilize, such as parents of underage children, according to a local commander.

All those who were wrongly mobilized must be returned. “This work has already begun,” said the President of the Republic Aysen Nikolaev in a telegram, after a meeting on the presidential decree on partial mobilization.

Watch Russian men in distant buses to fight in Putin’s war

Two of Russia’s top lawmakers acknowledged the cases on Sunday, saying the mobilization should take place “in accordance with the law” and lamenting reports of “mistaken incidents of mobilizing citizens”.

Such extremes are totally unacceptable. The harsh reaction that we see in society, in my opinion, deserved, Valentina Matvienko, Chair of the Federation Council of the Russian Federation, said in a post on Telegram.

In a direct speech to Russia’s regional rulers, Matvienko said that they “bear full responsibility for the implementation of the mobilization campaigns” in “full and absolute compliance with the declared parameters”.

Vyacheslav Volodin, head of the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, echoed Matvienko’s calls for due diligence, adding: “If an error occurs, it must be corrected.”

Meanwhile, videos circulating on Russian social media appear to reveal the tensions, grief and confusion raised by the drafting project – which began after Wednesday’s announcement – with scenes of families saying emotional goodbyes and other recruits arguing about being called up.

Video footage from Friday shows members of the police and National Guard squabbling with a crowd, as the recruited men board a bus in the Omsk region of Russia’s Siberia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday dramatically increased the risks of his attack on Ukraine for ordinary Russians, by announcing an immediate “partial mobilization” in a bid to bolster his faltering invasion after Ukraine’s gains.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the mobilization would affect only Russians with previous military experience, who said 300,000 reservists would be called up. However, the decree itself gives much broader conditions, which raises the fears of the Russians about the existence of a broader project in the future.

Activist groups, such as the Free Buryatia Foundation, have said that ethnic minorities in Russia are disproportionately mobilized. CNN has identified geo-video clips of some of these men being mobilized in the Far Eastern regions of Russia.

The mobilization announcement sparked anti-war demonstrations across the country, which were quickly suppressed by the police. At least 1,472 protesters have been arrested in dozens of cities across Russia as of Saturday, according to independent protest monitoring group OVD-Info.

It has also led to a mass exodus from Russia as men of military age flee the country rather than risk conscription, with video footage showing long lines of traffic at land border crossings to many neighboring countries and soaring airfares and selling flights in recent days.

More than 8,500 Russians traveled to neighboring Finland by land on Saturday, according to Finnish Border Guard official Matti Petkniti. The number represents a 62% increase from the previous Saturday, on Twitter. He added that nearly 4,200 Russians had left Finland for Russia.

Watch a group of giant cars trying to escape from Russia

In another tweet on Sunday, Pittkniti said the Valima border crossing in southeastern Finland was the busiest point for Russians coming into the country, adding that the line at 8 a.m. local time was about 500 meters (546 yards) long.

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

“I didn’t expect Putin to do that,” Thurstrom said, referring to protests across the country, adding that “when the first shock is gone, the resistance will grow.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during his Saturday evening address described Russia’s partial mobilization as a “mobilization to the graves” and urged the soldiers to surrender.

Listen to what Ukraine sent to Russian soldiers

Zelensky vowed that those soldiers who surrender would be “treated in a civilized manner,” saying that no one in Russia would know that their “surrender was voluntary,” and if they were “afraid to go back to Russia and don’t want an exchange” and Ukraine would “find a way to ensure that too.”

But Russia has moved to discourage military personnel from evading conscription or disobeying orders with new laws.

Putin on Saturday signed several amendments to the country’s criminal code that toughen penalties for military service in times of mobilization, martial law or wartime, which are “aggravating factors in criminal sentences,” according to language posted on the government’s legal portal. This comes after the amendments were introduced by the State Duma on Tuesday.

Under the new rules, Russians who give up or fail to do so could be liable to up to 10 years in prison.

“Federal law also provides for the criminal responsibility of military personnel in the event of voluntary surrender, as well as criminal responsibility for pillage during martial law, in time of war or in conditions of armed conflict or hostilities,” the Kremlin said in a statement on the amendments.

New Russian recruits receive combat weapons in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Russia on September 23.

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

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

The mobilization coincides with the vote in a batch of referendums to join Russia, which Moscow-backed leaders said is taking place in four Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine as of Friday.

Western governments have widely denounced the referendums as illegitimate and a political ploy at a time when Russia has lost significant ground to Ukraine, particularly in the country’s northeast.

It could also pave the way for Russia’s annexation of the territories, allowing Moscow to frame the ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive as an attack on Russia itself, which could give it an excuse to escalate its attack on Ukraine. Putin said last week that he would use “every means at our disposal” if he deemed Russia’s “territorial integrity” to be in jeopardy.

In general, the turnout on the first day of voting in referendums in the popular republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, the Zaporizhzhya region and Kherson exceeded 15%, said Alexander Khlodov, deputy head of the Russian state watchdog, the Committee on Security and Interaction. Part of the Public Oversight Committee, according to RIA Novosti.

Ukraine has requested an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council on the “sham” Russian referendums in the occupied Ukrainian territories, according to Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko.

“Russia should be held responsible for its further attempts to change Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders in violation of the UN Charter,” Nikolenko said in a tweet on Saturday.

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