Putin orders partial military call-up, protests erupt

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered a partial mobilization of reservists to bolster his military in Ukraine, a deeply unpopular move that has sparked rare protests across the country and nearly 1,200 arrests. .

The risky order came after a humiliating setback for Putin’s troops nearly seven months after they invaded Ukraine. The first such call-up in Russia after World War II raised tensions with Ukraine’s Western supporters, who took it as weakness and frustration.

The move also prompted some Russians to buy plane tickets to flee the country.

In his 14-minute address broadcast nationally, Putin also warned the West that he was not bluffing about using everything at his disposal to defend Russia – an apparent reference to its nuclear arsenal. . He has previously reprimanded NATO countries for supplying weapons to Ukraine.

Suffering heavy losses on the battlefield, an expansion of the front lines and a conflict that lasted longer than expected, the Kremlin struggled to replenish its troops in Ukraine, reportedly using extensive recruitment to prisons. Took help.,

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the total number of reservists to be called could be up to 300,000. However, Putin’s decree authorizing partial mobilization, which took effect immediately, offered few details, raising doubts that the draft could be broadened at any time. In particular, one section was kept secret.

Despite Russia’s tough laws against criticism of the military and war, angry protesters from mobilization overcame their fear of arrest to stage protests in cities across the country. According to the independent Russian human rights group OVD-Info, about 1,200 Russians were arrested in anti-war demonstrations in cities including Moscow and St.

Associated Press reporters in Moscow saw at least a dozen arrests in the first 15 minutes of nightly protests in the capital, with police confronting protesters in heavy body armor in front of shops, pulling some away and saying, Not for war!”

“I am not afraid of anything. The most valuable thing they can take from us is the lives of our children. I will not give them my child’s life,” said one Muscovite, who declined to be named.

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Asked whether protesting would help, he said: “It will be of no use, but it is my civic duty to express my stand. Not for war!”

In Yekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth-largest city, police put some of the 40 protesters detained at an anti-war rally on buses. A woman in a wheelchair shouted, referring to the Russian president: “The bald-headed ‘nut job’. He’ll bomb us, and we’re all still protecting him. I’ve said enough.”

The Vesna opposition movement called for a protest, saying: “Thousands of Russian men – our fathers, brothers and husbands – will be thrown into the meat grinder of war. What will they be dying for? What will the mothers and children be crying for? “

The Moscow Prosecutor’s Office warned that participating in or organizing the protests could result in up to 15 years in prison. Authorities have issued similar warnings before other protests. Wednesday was the first nationwide anti-war protests since fighting began in late February.

Other Russians responded by trying to leave the country, and flights were quickly booked.

In Armenia, Sergei arrived with his 17-year-old son, saying that he had prepared for such a scenario. Another Russian, Valery, said that his wife’s family lives in Kyiv, and mobilization is out of the question for him “only for the moral aspect”. Both men declined to give their last names.

State communications watchdog Roskomnadzor warned the media that access to their websites would be blocked for spreading “misinformation” about the mobilization.

Residents of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, appeared dismayed about the mobilization as they watched emergency workers clear debris from Russian rocket attacks on two apartment buildings.

“You don’t know what to expect,” said 66-year-old Kharkiv resident Olena Milevska. “But you understand that this is something personal for him.”

Calling for mobilization, Putin cited the length of the front line, which he said exceeds 1,000 kilometers (more than 620 miles). He also said that Russia is effectively fighting the combined military might of Western countries.

Western leaders said the mobilization was in response to Russia’s recent loss of the battlefield.

President Joe Biden told the UN General Assembly that Putin’s new nuclear threats showed “reckless neglect” For Russia’s responsibilities as a signatory to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

Hours later, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged world leaders at the gathering To snatch Russia’s vote in international institutions and a UN Security Council veto, saying the attackers needed to be punished and isolated.

Speaking via video, Zelensky said that his army “can return the Ukrainian flag to our entire territory. We can do it by force of arms. But we need time.”

Putin did not attend the meeting.

After an emergency meeting of EU foreign ministers on Wednesday night, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell promised further sanctions on Russia as the Ukraine conflict escalated. He said he was certain there would be a “consensus agreement” to approve both Russia’s economy and individual Russians.

“It is clear that Putin is trying to destroy Ukraine. He is trying to destroy the country in different ways because he is failing militarily,” Borrell said.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny said the mobilization meant the war “is getting worse, deeper, and Putin is trying to involve more and more people. … It’s just one person to person.” Power is being used to maintain its grip on it.”

The partial mobilization order came two days ahead of plans to hold a referendum on Russian-controlled areas in eastern and southern Ukraine becoming part of Russia – a move that could allow Moscow to escalate the war. Voting began on Friday in Luhansk, Kherson and the partly Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhya and Donetsk regions.

Foreign leaders are already calling the votes illegitimate and non-binding. Zelensky said they were a “sham” and “noise” to distract the public.

Michael Kaufman, head of Russian studies at the CNA think tank in Washington, said Putin has staked his rule on war, and that there is “no return”, as in “to an extent”.

“Partial mobilization affects everyone. And everyone in Russia understands … that they could be the next wave, and this is only the first wave,” Kaufman said.

Russian Defense Minister Shoigu said only a few people with relevant combat and service experience would be mobilized. He said that about 25 million people meet that criterion, but only 1% of them will be able to be raised.

It was not clear how many years of combat experience or what level of training soldiers would need to mobilize. Another clause in the decree prohibits most professional soldiers from terminating their contracts until after partial mobilization.

Putin’s mobilization could backfire by making war at home unpopular and hurting his own reputation. It also acknowledges Russia’s inherent military shortcomings.

A Ukrainian retaliation this month seized military initiative from Russia and seized large areas in Ukraine from Russian forces.

The lack of training facilities and equipment is unlikely to produce any results on the battlefield until months after the Russian mobilization.

Russian political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin said it seemed an “act of desperation”.

“People will avoid this mobilization in every possible way, pay bribes to get out of this mobilization, leave the country,” he said.

He described the announcement as “a great personal blow to Russian citizens who have recently (participated in the hostilities) with pleasure, sitting on their couches, (watching) TV. And now war is in their home.”

In his address, Putin accused the West of engaging in “nuclear blackmail” and cited alleged statements by some high-ranking representatives of major NATO states about the possibility of using nuclear weapons of mass destruction against Russia.

He did not elaborate.

“When the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, to protect Russia and our people, we will certainly use all means at our disposal,” Putin said.

In other developments, relatives of two US military veterans who went missing while fighting Russia alongside Ukraine’s military said they had been released after nearly three months of imprisonment. They were part of a swap arranged by Saudi Arabia of 10 prisoners from the US, Morocco, the United Kingdom, Sweden and Croatia.

And in another release, Ukraine announced early Thursday that it had secured freedom from Russian detention of 215 Ukrainian and foreign nationals, including fighters who for months defended a besieged steel plant in the city of Mariupol was. Zelensky posted a video in which an official briefs him about freeing civilians in exchange for pro-Russian opposition leader Viktor Medvedchuk and 55 others from Ukraine.

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Yesika Fisch in Kharkiv contributed to this story.

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