With a partial mobilization of the Russian armed forces, Kremlin chief Putin wants to bring about a turnaround in the war against Ukraine. Men are being rounded up across the country and sent to the front. But instead of patriotism, horror is spreading among the people – and resistance.
It’s cool, it’s raining, and the many police officers and prison transporters actually tend to deter people from demonstrating. Despite this, more than 100 people have come to central Moscow to protest against the partial mobilization ordered by Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin.
A young woman with a beige autumn jacket and a flowered headscarf climbs onto a bench and calls out: “We’re not meat!” Emergency services immediately rush in and pull her away. “We are not meat! We are not meat!” the woman keeps shouting until she is loaded into one of the vans. Again and again you can hear the crackling of electric shockers from there.
In other Russian cities, people are taking to the streets this weekend for the second time in just a few days. These are the largest anti-war protests since Russia invaded neighboring Ukraine on February 24. Videos from the Baltic Sea metropolis of St. Petersburg show how masked security forces beat demonstrators with batons. On Saturday evening, the civil rights organization OVD-Info counted more than 700 arrests nationwide. On Sunday, the organization then shows videos from the Republic of Dagestan in the Caucasus, on which police officers fire shots in the air during protests.
With the beginning of the mobilization of reservists, the war against Ukraine, which many Russians have so far suppressed, is now affecting almost every family in the huge country with its 146 million inhabitants. Many are in sheer panic. Seven months after invading Ukraine, Putin apparently reckoned without a large part of his population.
Videos of the evacuation of men, which began just hours after Putin’s TV speech on Wednesday, are circulating on social networks. Kremlin critics publish footage of wives and mothers crying at train and bus stations. “Dad, bye,” a child’s voice sobbed in a widely acclaimed clip. In chat groups, people are reporting how draft-age men are being picked up at work or at home without warning.
In recent months, polls have repeatedly been cited according to which the majority of Russians support the war. However, sociologists pointed out early on that many respondents viewed the struggles with uneasiness rather than enthusiasm. And now it is becoming clear that few see why their husbands, sons and grandchildren should die in Ukraine. It will probably take a while, but then the mood of protest in the country could increase significantly, believes political scientist Abbas Galljamov.
The Russian language has already gained a new word: “Mogilizazija” – a mixture of the terms “mobilization” and “grave”. Many Russians are convinced that they are just cannon fodder and should simply be burned for the purposes of a war that even their professional army would fail to achieve.
Under pressure from Ukrainian counter-offensives, it recently withdrew from the eastern Ukrainian region of Kharkiv. A large number of soldiers are now needed to hold at least the occupied parts of the Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhia and Kherson regions, which Moscow wants to annex with the help of mock referendums currently underway. The fact that ordinary citizens are being forced to risk their lives while members of the political leadership escape unharmed is also causing particular anger among the Russian population.
According to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, a total of 300,000 men are to be drafted. According to research by the media outlet Novaya Gazeta, the Kremlin is secretly aiming for a million recruits. Putin’s spokesman recently denied this – but many Russians have completely lost confidence in statements by their political leaders.
According to media reports, a 63-year-old man suffering from diabetes was drafted in Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad) – although officially only up to 55-year-olds are supposed to fight. In the Buryatia region it hits a father of five children. In Yakutia in Siberia, the head of the republic, Aissen Nikolayev, has to admit that mistakes were made in the military district offices. “Reservists were drafted incorrectly, they have to be sent back.”
The analysts of the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) write: “The Russian mobilization system (…) will probably fail even to produce the poor quality mobilization reserves that Putin’s plans would have envisaged”.
Criticism of the military’s seemingly chaotic approach to partial mobilization is increasing, even from official Russian sources. The head of the Russian President’s Human Rights Council, Valery Fadeyev, is calling on Defense Minister Shoigu to end the “bludgeoning system” at many draft offices in the country.
The head of the Russian republic of Chechnya in the North Caucasus, Ramzan Kadyrov, who recently advocated mobilization, is now criticizing that Russia actually has enough resources even without reservists. Kadyrov said there were five million well-trained people in Russia who could handle weapons.
Meanwhile, long columns of cars are backing up at the borders with Russia’s neighboring countries. Flights abroad are sold out for days or can hardly be paid for far away destinations. Thousands fled the country by car – for example to neighboring countries Kazakhstan or Georgia, where no visas are required. “Let me know if you know someone who will be leaving overland in the next few days,” a Muscovite asked in a private chat. “We’re trying to get a friend’s husband out.”
After hours of worrying, a young woman from Novosibirsk writes: Her little brother managed to escape to Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia. She is relieved – and depressed at the same time: “Who knows when I can see him again…”