President Vladimir Putin’s order to call up as many as 300,000 reservists to fight in Ukraine triggered alarm and demonstrations as Russians were forced to confront the reality of the deadly conflict.
Police detained about 1,400 people at protests against the order in 38 cities Wednesday night, according to the OVD-Info monitoring group. Some of the male detainees were handed draft notices at police stations, and protesters may face criminal charges under the harsh laws against criticism of the war the Kremlin has imposed since the Feb. 24 invasion. Some university students who joined the demonstrations were threatened with expulsion, which could annul draft exemptions.
For millions of Russians who’ve been largely shielded from the reality of the Kremlin’s bloody seven-month war, Putin’s speech early Wednesday announcing a “partial mobilization” came as a shock. The authorities provided few details of how the order, which is the first in Russia since World War II, will be implemented and who will get drafted.
Regional governments quickly began issuing orders for reservists — a huge category covering people who served as conscripts, contract soldiers, and part-time officers — to prepare to be summoned and banning them from leaving the area, according to Pavel Chikov, a lawyer who advises on conscription cases. Doctors in Moscow also received mobilization notices, he said on Telegram.
Videos posted on social media showed draftees in the Yakutia region in Siberia being taken away by bus, seen off by crowds of tearful relatives.
Authorities in some cases came in the middle of the night to round up conscripts in order to fill the regional quotas that the military sets.
“They took my 40-year-old son at night,” said Antonina, a pensioner in the Far East who declined to give her last name. “Everyone who was taken in our village was over 40, not a single young one. They’ll grab anyone. There’s total panic and confusion.”
The mobilization order will affect 300,000 people and apply only to those with military experience, according to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Students and people who haven’t served in the army won’t be called up, he said.
But the presidential decree doesn’t specify which categories of Russia’s 2 million reservists will be called up and has a secret clause.
Legal restrictions on leaving the country for those subject to mobilization “haven’t been implemented yet because it’s a partial one,” said Andrey Kartapolov, head of the Defense Committee in the lower house of parliament, according to RBC. “As for how things will go in the future, we’ll see, as they say.”