Russia is recruiting anti-war protesters into the military amid nationwide protests: watch group


More than 1,300 people were arrested across Russia on Wednesday for taking part in nationwide anti-war protests – some directly conscripted into the military, a watchdog group says, after leader Vladimir Putin announced a “partial mobilization» citizens for his staggering invasion of Ukraine.

Footage and video show police cracking down on protesters in several cities, with pictures showing several demonstrators during a demonstration in central Moscow being led away by police and authorities in St Petersburg. Saint Petersburg trying to contain a crowd chanting “no mobilization” in front of the Isakiivskiy Cathedral.

Police arrested protesters in 38 cities across Russia on Wednesday, according to figures released shortly after midnight by the independent monitoring group OVD-Info. The group’s spokeswoman, Maria Kuznetsova, told CNN by telephone that in at least four police stations in Moscow, some of the protesters arrested by riot police were drafted directly into the Russian army.

One of the detainees was threatened with prosecution for refusing to enlist, she said. The government has said the penalty for refusing the project is now 15 years in prison. Of more than 1,300 people detained nationwide, more than 500 were in Moscow and more than 520 in St. Petersburg. St. Petersburg, according to OVD-Info.

Just over half of the detained protesters whose names have been made public are women, OVD-Info also said, making it the largest anti-government protest by percentage of women in recent history. The watchdog clarified that the extent of the arrests, however, remains unknown.

Nine journalists and 33 minors are also among those detained, he added, adding that one of the minors had been “brutally beaten” by the security forces.

The protests followed a Wednesday morning speech by Putin, in which he outlined a plan that raises the stakes of his war in Ukraine, including for the Russian people, at a time when a sudden counter-offensive of Kyiv took over thousands of square kilometers of territory and put Moscow on its back. Experts say Russian forces have been significantly depleted.

The “partial mobilization” announced would see 300,000 reservists called, according to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Putin said those with military experience would be subject to conscription and stressed that the decree – which has already been signed – was necessary to “protect our homeland, its sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

Putin’s decree seems to allow for a broader mobilization than he suggested in his speech.

The first paragraph speaks of “partial mobilization,” but it does not define who is eligible as narrowly as the Russian leader did in his speech. Instead, it says the only people it doesn’t apply to are those who are ineligible due to age, illness or imprisonment.

Ekaterina Schulmann, a Russian political scientist and associate member of the Chatham House think tank, said on Telegram that while the executive order “describes the mobilization as partial”, it “does not set any parameters for that bias, whether territorial or categorical”.

“According to this text, anyone can be called up except those working in the military-industrial complex who are exempt for the duration of their employment. The fact that mobilization only applies to reservists or to those with particularly necessary skills is mentioned in the address, but not in the decree.

Russian human rights lawyer Pavel Chikov said the decree sets out the mobilization “in the broadest terms”.

“The president leaves that to the discretion of the defense minister. So, in fact, it is the Russian defense ministry that will decide who will be sent to war, from where and in what numbers,” Chikov said on Telegram.

The ultimate meaning of the apparent gap is still unclear. And it remains to be seen whether the Kremlin has the appetite for a broader mobilization across the general civilian population.

During his Wednesday speech, Putin also raised the specter of nuclear weapons, saying he would use “every means at our disposal” if he felt Russia’s “territorial integrity” was threatened. He also endorsed the referendum on joining Russia that Russian-appointed leaders in four occupied regions of Ukraine said they would hold this week.

Concern among Russian citizens was palpable on Wednesday, with travel agency websites showing a dramatic increase in demand for flights in places where Russians don’t need a visa The flight sales websites indicate that direct flights to these countries are sold out until at least Friday.

Riot police detain a protester during an anti-war demonstration in Moscow, Russia, September 21.

The protests, most of which appeared to have attracted a few dozen people, were another strong signal of the desperation felt by some. Dissent is generally quickly suppressed in Russia, and authorities have stepped up restrictions on freedom of expression following the invasion of Ukraine.

Social media footage showed several protesters in Ulan Ude, eastern Siberia, carrying signs reading “No to War!” Do not mobilize!” and “Our husbands, fathers and brothers do not want to kill other husbands and fathers!”

“We want our fathers, husbands and brothers to stay alive… and not leave their children orphans. Stop the war and don’t take our people!” said one protester.

Video from Yekaterinburg in western Russia shows police brawling with several protesters. CNN could not independently verify footage from either city.

Another video posted by a reporter for Moscow-based internet publication The Village shows dozens of people on Arbatskaya Street chanting “Let him go” as a man is carried away.

On Wednesday, the Moscow prosecutor’s office also warned citizens against joining protests or distributing information calling for participation – reminding people they could face up to 15 years in prison.

Asked on Thursday about reports that people detained at anti-war rallies received summonses for military conscription, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the practice “is not contrary to the law”. There is no violation of the law here.

Putin’s “partial mobilization” announcement was condemned on Wednesday by Western leaders, many of whom were gathered at the opening of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York.

In a rare joint statement, British Prime Minister Liz Truss and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said both agree that Putin’s announcement of a partial mobilization of Russian citizens is a sign of ‘weakness’ .

European Union foreign ministers agreed in New York to move forward with a new set of penalties against Russia, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters.

Ukraine remained defiant over Putin’s announcement, with President Volodymyr Zelensky telling the UNGA on Wednesday in a pre-recorded speech that Russia is ‘afraid of real (peace) negotiations’ and pointing out what he has called Russian “lies”.

Russia “talks about talks but announces military mobilization,” Zelensky said. “Russia wants war.

On Thursday, German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said Putin’s “partial mobilization” only strengthened the country’s support for Ukraine. French Defense Minister Sébastien Lecornu said his country would continue to support Ukraine in terms of arms and training, but added that France needed cooperation within NATO to to do.

Meanwhile, analysis by researchers at the Institute for the Study of Warfare said the move will not have a significant impact on the immediate outcome of the war.

The analysis said it would take weeks or months to bring reservists up to combat readiness, that Russian reservists are “poorly trained to begin with” and that the “deliberate phases” of deployment described by Russia’s Minister of Defense are likely to prevent “any sudden influx of Russian forces that could radically change the course of the war.