According to a monitoring group, more than 1,300 people were detained across Russia on Wednesday for participating in nationwide anti-war protests, with some directly conscripted into the military after leader Vladimir Putin announced a “partial mobilization” of citizens for his faltering invasion of Ukraine.
Images and videos show police cracking down on demonstrators in multiple cities, including footage of several protesters being carried away by police at a demonstration in central Moscow and authorities in St. Petersburg attempting to control a crowd chanting “no mobilization” outside Isakiivskiy Cathedral.
According to figures released shortly after midnight by the independent monitoring group OVD-Info, police detained protesters in 38 cities across Russia on Wednesday. According to the group’s spokeswoman, Maria Kuznetsova, some of the protesters arrested by riot police were being drafted directly into Russia’s military at at least four police stations in Moscow.
According to her, one of the detainees has been threatened with prosecution for refusing to be drafted. According to the government, the penalty for refusing the draft is now 15 years in prison. According to OVD-Info, more than 500 of the more than 1,300 people detained nationwide were in Moscow, and more than 520 were in St. Petersburg.
According to OVD-Info, just over half of the detained protesters whose names have been made public are women, making this the largest anti-government protest in recent history by percentage of women. The total number of arrests, according to the watchdog, remains unknown.
It also said that nine journalists and 33 minors had been detained, and that one of the minors had been “brutally beaten” by law enforcement.
The protests followed Putin’s speech on Wednesday morning, in which he outlined a strategy that raises the stakes of his war in Ukraine, including for the Russian people, at a time when a surprise counteroffensive from Kiev has recaptured thousands of square miles of territory and put Moscow on the defensive. According to experts, Russia’s forces have been significantly depleted.
According to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, the announced “partial mobilization” would call up 300,000 reservists. Putin stated that those with military experience would be drafted, and emphasized that the decree, which had already been signed, was necessary to “protect our homeland, its sovereignty, and its territorial integrity.”
Putin’s decree appears to permit greater mobilization than he suggested in his speech.
The first paragraph mentions “partial mobilization,” but it does not define those eligible as narrowly as Russia’s president did in his speech. Instead, it states that the only people who are not eligible are those who are too old, sick, or incarcerated.
While the decree “describes the mobilization as partial,” Ekaterina Schulmann, a Russian political scientist and associate fellow at the Chatham House think tank, said on Telegram that it “sets no parameters of this partiality, either territorial or categorical.”
According to Russian human rights lawyer Pavel Chikov, the decree defines mobilization “in broad terms.”
The ultimate significance of the apparent disparity is unknown. And it remains to be seen whether the Kremlin is willing to mobilize the general civilian population.
During his Wednesday speech, Putin also mentioned nuclear weapons, saying he would use “all the means at our disposal” if Russia’s “territorial integrity” was threatened. He also backed referendums on joining Russia announced by Russian-appointed leaders in four occupied regions of Ukraine this week.
On Wednesday, there was palpable concern among Russian citizens, with travel agency websites showing a dramatic increase in demand for flights to places where Russians do not require a visa. According to flight sale websites, direct flights to such countries were sold out as of Friday.
The protests, most of which appeared to draw only a few dozen people, were yet another indication of the desperation felt by some. Dissent is typically quickly crushed in Russia, and authorities have imposed additional restrictions on free speech in the aftermath of the invasion of Ukraine.
Ukraine remained defiant in the face of Putin’s announcement, with President Volodymyr Zelensky telling the UNGA in a pre-recorded address Wednesday that Russia was “afraid of real (peace) negotiations,” and pointing to what he characterized as Russian “lies.”