Putin’s call-up of reservists sparks protests and exodus of Russian men, but appears to be escalating war in Ukraine

Kyiv, Ukraine — Russian reservists are on their way to the front line of Ukraine following President Vladimir Putin ordered the partial mobilization of his military reserves. But the move hasn’t gone well. Within hours of Putin’s announcement, thousands of Russians in cities across the country defied the country’s blanket ban on taking to the streets to protest unauthorized demonstrations. According to the Independent Russia Monitoring Group, more than 1,000 people were arrested.

And while the Kremlin denies any exodus, clear evidence has emerged that Russians, mostly men of fighting age, have scrambled to flee their country to avoid the fighting Putin’s war in Ukraine.

As CBS News correspondent Debora Patta reports, Russian men, 18 to 50-year-old reservists across the country, began receiving calls for military service within hours of Putin’s announcement Wednesday.

The video shows the young men boarding buses, hastily saying goodbye and tearful goodbyes to their families as they head off to training camps.

For those loved ones left behind, fear has a cold grip. Putin’s professional soldiers have not fared well recently on the battlefields of northeastern Ukraine, where they have lost much of the territory they quickly occupied after the invasion began on February 24.

According to Russian officials, the country has lost an estimated 6,000 soldiers, but the US military estimates that nearly 80,000 Russian soldiers have been killed or injured in the war. Ukraine has also suffered massive casualties, with one commander estimating around 9,000 a month ago.


Russian positions in the abandoned Ukrainian counteroffensive

02:45

But a counteroffensive by Ukrainian forces in and around Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city, just a few weeks ago has sent the Russian troops to hell — and it has given Ukraine’s war effort a major boost.

Many Russians, who still rely heavily on the country’s state-controlled media for information, don’t get the full picture of what’s happening across Ukraine’s border. But the Kremlin’s efforts to hide the truth seemed unable to slow the push for the border this week when news broke of the call-up of reservists.

ARMENIA-RUSSIA-UKRAINE-CONFLICT
Russians arrive at Zvartnots Airport in Yerevan, Armenia on September 21, 2022. Flights from Russia were booked this week after President Vladimir Putin ordered a “partial mobilization” of reservists to fight in Ukraine.

KAREN MINASYAN/AFP/Getty


Flights out of the country have been solidly booked for a few days now as Russians try to escape conscription.

“That’s why I’m here,” said the Russian passenger, who identified himself only as Alex, after getting off the plane in Istanbul, Turkey, on Thursday. “Russian people do not want to go to war and join the army.”

In recent days, traffic has also slowed down at the exits of Russia’s land border to the neighboring countries of Georgia, Finland and Serbia.

FINLAND-RUSSIA-UKRAINE-CONFLICT-BORDER
Vehicles are waiting for the Russian-Finnish border crossing at the Nuijamaa border crossing in Lappeenranta, Finland, on September 22, 2022.

LAURI HEINO/Page Screen/AFP/Getty


In Russia’s far east, however, a long line of new conscripts — men who either wanted to or simply couldn’t avoid the war — formed into warplanes later this week.

Many of the reservists called up this week have never fought in a war, let alone one that has already crushed Russia’s hardened fighters.

Ukrainian soldiers may be armed and manned by Russia, but Ukrainian special forces senior lieutenant Taras Berezovets, who led the counteroffensive in one part of Kharkiv Oblast, told Patta that his men are more nimble and have a key advantage: technology.

The country’s forces have been using satellite communications equipment provided to Ukraine by its Western backers to communicate anywhere, anytime, without being easily detected.

This has given them a modern warfare advantage over invading forces.

Berezovets said the technology had “never been seen before” on the battlefields of Russia’s war against his country and “played one of the key roles in the battle for the Kharkiv region.”

That was “one of the reasons the Russians lost, because they are completely out of date,” he told Patta.

But Ukrainian leaders and troops know that the war is far from over. In fact, it can escalate.

On Friday, de facto administrations were in place in four Ukrainian regions still occupied by Russia – Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. referendums began to be organizedasking residents if they want their hometowns to become part of Russia.

Explainer of Russia's military referendum in Ukraine
A military vehicle drives down a street with an advertisement reading: “Forever with Russia, September 27” ahead of a referendum in eastern Ukraine, in Luhansk People’s Republic, which is controlled by Russian-backed separatists.

AP


A vote held in Russian-occupied territories will surely go Moscow’s way, and the results will give Putin an excuse to unilaterally annex the territories. as he did with Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014.

In the eight years since, almost no country has recognized that the land grab is legitimate under international law, and almost no country is likely to recognize the new land grab Russia is conducting this week as legitimate. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke at the United Nations on Thursday derided the votes as a “fake referendum.”

But if they do happen, Putin is expected to quickly declare four Ukrainian regions as Russian territory, and he could use that as a pretext to claim that Ukrainian forces fighting to retake the occupied territories are attacking Russia.


Former US ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor weighs in on the mobilization of Putin’s forces

08:06

Russia’s president, announcing his partial military mobilization earlier this week, said he was ready to use the deadliest weapons in his arsenal, including nuclear weapons, that could be used in local or regional tactical attacks.

“Our country also has various means of destruction,” threatened Putin. “And if the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will definitely use all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people. This is not a bluff.”