Russian military mobilization targets ethnic minorities and protesters

RIGA, Latvia – In just two days since Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the mobilization to help his ailing war in Ukraine, thousands of men have been hunted down by recruiters, in some cases arrested in the middle of the night , and quickly loaded onto buses and planes to be sent for military training and, presumably, deployment to the front lines.

And despite authorities’ assurances of a “partial” mobilization, limited to reservists with prior military experience, the initial random call-up process has raised fears that Putin is trying to activate far more troops than the 300,000 originally announced by the government. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

“It’s just hell here; they catch everyone,” a resident of Sosnovo-Ozerskoye, a rural settlement of about 6,000 people in the eastern Siberian region of Buryatia, near the Russia-Mongolia border, wrote to Victoria Maldeva, an activist of the Free Buryatia Foundation which has collected hundreds of reports on mass mobilization.

“Drunk men who are supposed to leave the same day are wandering around the town square,” the Sosnovo-Ozerskoye resident wrote. “Here, everyone knows each other. It’s impossible to bear. The women are crying, chasing the bus and the men have begged for forgiveness before leaving as they know they face certain death.

The Free Buryatia Foundation and similar activists working in Yakutia, another remote and impoverished region of Russia in northeastern Siberia, said they feared the mobilization would disproportionately target ethnic minorities who live in these regions, several thousand kilometers from Moscow.

“As far as Buryatia is concerned, it’s not partial mobilization, it’s full mobilization,” Free Buryatia Foundation head Alexandra Garmazhapova said in a TV interview. “And it amazes me how people who know how much Vladimir Putin likes to lie thought it would be a partial mobilization.”

Garmazhapova said her volunteers stayed up all night Wednesday and Thursday to help men, some as young as 62, who were woken up by teachers forced to go door to door in Buryat villages at night and to submit opinions.

Rights advocates said they believe Russian military recruiters are focusing their efforts in rural and remote areas, rather than big cities like Moscow or St Petersburg, because a lack of media and protest activity makes it easier to enforce recruiting orders and to appease regional leaders looking to curry favor with Putin. Asian ethnic populations in Siberia and the Russian Far East are also less likely to have personal and family ties to Ukraine.

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In Moscow, however, recruiters have found a new source of readily available recruits: protesters arrested at anti-war rallies this week. A journalist from the SOTA Vision store, Artem Kriger, was arrested on Wednesday as he finished a live broadcast from one of the capital’s central streets.

Later, at the police station, Kriger and more than a dozen other men arrested with him received summonses ordering them to report to their local military stations. On Friday, Kriger was also sentenced to eight days in jail after a judge found him guilty of participating in an unauthorized gathering.

Military analysts say it is far from clear that Russia’s military setbacks can be reversed simply by sending hundreds of thousands of new fighters to the front lines. Russia is also short of weapons and other supplies, and has lost several commanders in the nearly seven-month war.

The initial disarray and confusion in the mobilization effort, along with public anger, confirmed the risk of a societal backlash that had caused Putin to resist the imposition of compulsory service during the war until recent setbacks make it clear that Russia was in danger of being defeated. But large numbers of untrained, unmotivated and ill-equipped soldiers are unlikely to offset Russia’s losses, experts said.

Several videos uploaded Friday morning showed buses full of agitated and apparently drunk men who had received call notices brawling with each other. The videos, which could not be independently verified, highlighted the potential lack of morale and discipline of new Russian fighters.

In Dagestan, a Muslim-majority region in the northern Caucasus where Russian media reported the official goal was to round up 13,000 men at enlistment offices, a group of men engaged in a shouting match with a local recruiter, a woman who tried to shame them for refusing to participate in the war effort.

“These children are going to fight for their future,” the woman shouted at a group of about 30 men who had gathered outside a local police station, from an excerpt job by the “Observers of Dagestan” movement.

” What future ? We don’t even have a present,” one of the men replied. “Go fight if you want. We don’t!

At another recruiting post, in the small town of Ekaterinoslavka in the far eastern Amur region, northeast of the Russian-Chinese border, an officer yelled at a group of men angry and resentful who had been summoned. “Why are you crying like little girls,” the officer told a disgruntled crowd according to secretly recorded video. “Recess is over. You are all soldiers now.

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On Friday, Russia’s Defense Ministry sought to quell the chaos and anger gripping the country by sending “clarifications” to state news outlets about who qualified for the appeal. But that did little to quell the panic, as there were numerous reports of men qualifying for exemptions nonetheless receiving summonses.

Pavel Chikov, the head of a human rights group, Agora, which helps Russians find legal ways to avoid serving in the war, reported several cases in which men above the declared mobilization age of 55 had received summonses.

“The Ministry of Defense has been busy for two consecutive days, trying to reassure the population,” Chikov said on his Telegram channel. “But it is important that these ‘official statements’ are only the work of the press service, and not real decrees, which are all for official use and secret.

“District Military Commissioners don’t read Telegram, they have lists sent to them from the center, and they will continue to fill buses, muster stations and planes with people,” he wrote.

Alexander Dorzhiev, 38, of Ulan-Ude, a town in Buryatia about 150 miles from the border with Mongolia, was given notice on Wednesday morning and ordered to report at 4 a.m. the following day at a local recruiting post, and leaving his hometown a few hours later.

As the father of five small children, Dorzhiev should be exempt from military service, according to Russian laws. Amid public uproar, Buryatia Governor Alexey Tsydenov said 70 fathers who should have been exempted were summoned but later released from police stations.

Children from Kharkiv went to summer camp in Russia. They never came back.

The chaos has drawn strong criticism even from some supporters of Putin’s government.

“It just shows how well our enlistment offices are functioning,” journalist and pro-Kremlin politician Andrey Medvedev wrote on Telegram, criticizing the mobilization procedure in Russia. “It leads to panic in the rear, hysterical moods and massive social tension. Mobilization should strengthen the army, not cause upheaval.

Adding to the national panic, the Kremlin acknowledged that a secret paragraph of the mobilization decree signed by Putin on Wednesday dealt with the number of troops Russia plans to call up.

Novaya Gazeta Europe reported on Thursday, citing a source within the presidential administration, that the clause envisaged activating 1 million people. Another Russian outlet, Meduza, reported the number could be as high as 1.2 million. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called both reports “lies” but did not provide a corrected figure.

Bloggers and pro-Kremlin Instagram accounts have launched a #NoToPanic hashtag on Russian social media platforms. They published nearly identical articles insisting that “only 1% of reservists will be called up” – in what appeared to be a coordinated effort to debunk reports that the true recruiting target is well over 300,000.

“Would one fries be enough to fill you up? I think everyone would say no, it’s just 1% from you,” blogger Anna Belozerova wrote on VKontakte, a Russian social media platform. “You have guessed correctly that I am talking about a mobilization that is causing everyone to panic. We all need to stay calm! It will only be 300,000 people, 1% reservists. »

Still, Russians seeking to avoid military service continued to flock to the country’s borders, fearing that even if they were spared this week, they could be trapped in the next wave of mobilization.

With flights nearly fully booked, most cross land borders by car or on foot, although opportunities to escape to Europe appear to be shrinking. Finland, the EU’s only land border open to Russians, said on Friday it would bar Russians with tourist visas from crossing in the coming days.

Robyn Dixon and Natalia Abbakumova in Riga, Latvia contributed to this report.

War in Ukraine: what you need to know

The last: Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “partial mobilization” of troops in an address to the nation on September 21, describing the move as an attempt to defend Russian sovereignty against a West that seeks to use Ukraine as a tool to ” divide and destroy Russia”. .” Follow our live updates here.

The fight: A successful Ukrainian counteroffensive has forced a major Russian retreat into the northeastern Kharkiv region in recent days, as troops fled towns and villages they had occupied since the early days of the war and abandoned large quantities of military equipment.

Annexation referendums: Organized referendums, which would be illegal under international law, are set to take place September 23-27 in the breakaway regions of Luhansk and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, according to Russian news agencies. Another organized referendum will be organized by the Moscow-appointed administration in Kherson from Friday.

Pictures: Washington Post photographers have been in the field since the start of the war. Here are some of their most powerful works.

How you can help: Here’s how those in the United States can help support the people of Ukraine as well as what people around the world have donated.

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