Russian military mobilization targets ethnic minorities and protesters

RIYA, Latvia — Just two days after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a mobilization to help his troubled war in Ukraine, thousands of men have been chased by recruiters, in some cases rounded up in the middle of the night and quickly herded onto buses. and aircraft being sent out for military training and presumably deployment to the front line.

And despite the 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 Russian Defense Minister Sergey initially claimed at 300,000. Shoigu.

“It’s just hell here; they grab everything,” wrote Victoria Maldeva, a resident of Sosnovo-Ozerskoye, a rural settlement of about 6,000 in the Buryat region of East Siberia, to an activist with the Free Buryatia Foundation, which has collected hundreds of reports of mass mobilization.

“Drunken men who are supposed to leave the same day are walking around the town square,” wrote a resident of Sosnovo-Ozerskoye. “Everybody knows each other here. It’s impossible to bear. The women are crying, chasing the bus, and the men are begging for forgiveness before they leave because they know they are certain to die.

The Free Buryatia Foundation and similar activists working in Yakutia, another impoverished remote region of Russia, said they were concerned that the mobilization was disproportionately targeting ethnic minorities living in those regions, thousands of miles from Moscow.

“As far as Buryatia is concerned, this is not a partial mobilization, it is a full mobilization,” Alexandra Garmazhapova, head of the Free Buryatia Foundation, said in a TV interview. “And it amazes me how people who know how much Vladimir Putin likes to lie believed that this was a partial mobilization.”

Garmazhapova said her volunteers stayed up all night Wednesday and Thursday helping the men, some as young as 62, who were awakened by schoolteachers who were forced to go door-to-door at night in Buryat villages and report.

Rights workers said they believe Russian military recruiters are focusing their efforts on rural and remote areas, rather than big cities like Moscow or St. Petersburg, because the lack of media coverage and protest activity makes it easier for them to enforce recruitment orders and appease regional leaders who want to curry favor with Putin. Ethnic Asians 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 found a new source of readily available recruits: protesters arrested at an anti-war rally this week. SOTA Vision store reporter Artem Kriger was arrested on Wednesday when he finished his live broadcast from one of the central streets of the capital.

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

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. Russia is also short on weapons and other supplies and has lost several commanders in the nearly seven-month war.

The initial confusion and disarray in mobilization efforts and public anger confirmed the risk of a societal backlash that had prompted Putin to oppose conscription in the war until recent setbacks showed Russia was facing defeat. But large numbers of untrained, unmotivated and ill-equipped troops are unlikely to reverse Russia’s losses, experts said.

Several videos posted online Friday morning showed busloads of agitated and apparently drunk men who had received the summons fighting among themselves. The videos, which could not be independently verified, highlighted a possible lack of morale and discipline among Russia’s newest fighters.

In Dagestan, a majority-Muslim region of the North Caucasus where Russian media reported the official goal was to gather 13,000 men into recruitment offices, a group of men engaged in a shouting match with a local recruiter, a woman who tried to shame them. that he did not want to join the war effort.

“These children are going to fight for their future,” a woman shouted to about 30 men who had gathered outside the local commissariat. according to the clip posted by the “Observers of Dagestan” movement.

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

At another recruiting station, in the small town of Yekaterinoslavka in the far eastern Amur region, an officer yelled at a group of angry, resentful men who had been drafted. “Why are you crying like little girls,” the officer told the disgruntled crowd, according to a surreptitiously recorded video. “Playtime is over. You are all soldiers now.”

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Russia’s Defense Ministry sought to defuse the chaos and anger in the country on Friday by sending “clarifications” to state news outlets about who qualified for the invitation. But that did little to quell the panic, as several reports surfaced of men who qualified for exemptions but still received subpoenas.

Pavel Chikov, head of the human rights group Agora, which helps Russians find legal ways to avoid serving in the war, reported several cases in which men over the age of 55 had been subpoenaed.

“The Ministry of Defense has been busy for two days in a row trying to calm the population,” Chikov posted on his Telegram channel. “However, it is important that these ‘official statements’ are only the work of the press service, and not actual decrees, which are all for official use and secret.

“The military commissars of the district do not read the Telegram, they have lists sent to them from the center and continue to fill buses, assembly stations and planes with people,” he wrote.

Alexander Dorzhiyev, 38, from Ulan-Ude, Buryatia, about 150 miles from the Mongolian border, received a message Wednesday morning and was told to report to a local recruiting station at 4 a.m. the next day and leave. to his hometown just a few hours later.

As a father of five young children, Dorzhiev should be exempt from military service under Russian law. Amid public uproar, Buryatia Governor Aleksey Tsydenov said 70 fathers who should have been released were summoned but later released from commissariats.

The children of Harkivi went to a summer camp in Russia. They never came back.

The chaos drew sharp criticism even from some supporters of Putin’s government.

“This simply shows the quality of the work of our recruitment agencies,” pro-Kremlin journalist and politician Andrei Medvedev wrote on Telegram, criticizing the mobilization procedure in Russia. “It will lead to panic in the rear, hysterical moods and enormous social tension. Mobilization should strengthen the army, not cause revolution.

Adding to the national panic was the Kremlin’s confirmation that a secret clause in the mobilization order 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 in the presidential administration, that the clause provided for the activation of 1 million people. Another Russian outlet, Meduza, reported that the figure could be as high as 1.2 million. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called both reports “false” but did not provide a corrected figure.

Pro-Kremlin bloggers and Instagram models launched the hashtag #NoToPanic on Russian social media platforms. They published nearly identical posts stressing that “only 1 percent of reservists are called up” — in what appeared to be a concerted effort to debunk reports that the actual recruitment target is much higher than 300,000.

“Would one frying pan be enough to fill your stomach?” I think everyone would say no, it’s only 1 percent of your portion,” blogger Anna Belozerova wrote on the Russian social network VKontakte. “You guessed correctly that I was talking about the mobilization that everyone is panicking about. We all need to keep calm! That’s only 300,000 people, 1 percent reservists.

But Russians trying to avoid conscription continued to rush to the country’s borders, fearing that even if they were not spared this week, they could be trapped in the next wave of mobilization.

With flights almost completely sold out, most are crossing land borders by car or on foot, although opportunities to escape to Europe appeared to be shrinking. Finland, which is the only EU land border open to Russians, announced on Friday that it will prevent Russians with tourist visas from crossing in the coming days.

This report was written by Robyn Dixon and Natalia Abbakumova in Riga, Latvia.

War in Ukraine: What you need to know

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

Combat: Ukraine’s successful counteroffensive has forced Russia into a major retreat northeast of Kharkiv in recent days as troops fled towns and villages they had occupied since the beginning of the war and left behind large amounts of military equipment.

Annexation referendums: According to Russian news agencies, the separatist Lugansk and Donetsk regions in Eastern Ukraine will take place on 23-27 referendums staged in September, which would be illegal under international law. The Moscow-appointed administration will hold another phased referendum in Kherson on Friday.

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