President Vladimir Putin’s order to call up as many as 300,000 reservists to fight in Ukraine triggered alarm and scattered demonstrations as Russians were forced to confront the reality of the deadly conflict.
Police detained about 1,400 people at protests against the order in 38 cities Wednesday night, according to the OVD-Info monitoring group. Some of the male detainees were handed draft notices, while protesters may face criminal charges under the harsh laws against criticism of the war the Kremlin has imposed since the Feb. 24 invasion. Some university students who joined the demonstrations were threatened with expulsion, which could annul draft exemptions.
For millions of Russians who’ve been largely shielded from the reality of the Kremlin’s bloody seven-month war, Putin’s speech early Wednesday announcing a “partial mobilization” came as a shock. The authorities provided few details of how the order, which is the first in Russia since World War II, will be implemented and who will get drafted.
Regional governments quickly began issuing orders for reservists — a huge category covering people who served as conscripts, contract soldiers, and part-time officers — to prepare to be summoned and banning them from leaving the area, according to Pavel Chikov, a lawyer who advises on conscription cases. Doctors in Moscow also received mobilization notices, he said on Telegram.
Finland’s border service reported a 50% surge in car traffic overnight, but said volumes were still below typical weekend levels. Google data showed a surge in search requests for “how to leave Russia” and even “how to break an arm.” Social media were flooded with reports of spikes in airline ticket prices.
“One of the consequences of mobilization will be the fact that the apolitical and passive population will be trawling the Internet and social media to search for answers over mobilization,” Tatiana Stanovaya, founder of the R.Politik research group, said on Telegram. “And they’ll find them not where the Kremlin wants them to, and not just information about how they’ll be drafted.”
Putin’s “major problem is his confidence that the people support him by default because he’s a leader who’s doing the right thing in the national interests,” she added.
Worried relatives of those facing the call-up for war vented their anger on the Telegram channel of Vyacheslav Volodin, the lower house of parliament’s speaker and a Putin ally.
The mobilization order will affect 300,000 people and apply only to those with military experience, according to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Students and people who haven’t served in the army won’t be called up, he said.
But the presidential decree on mobilization doesn’t specify which categories of Russia’s 2 million reservists will be called up and has a secret clause.
A media outlet set up by jailed opposition leader Alexey Navalny fanned the discontent by broadcasting a conversation with the son of Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov, in which the program’s host posed as an official from the military recruitment office. Nikolay Peskov, 32, said he wouldn’t obey the summons and would “sort this out at another level,” according to the audio recording. Peskov later said his son’s comments were taken out of context and that he would make the “only right decision.”