September 24, 2022

Protests broke out in several Russian cities, including the capital Moscow, after Vladimir Putin announced that he was mobilizing troops for the war in Ukraine.

Demonstrators shout “No war!” and “send Putin to the trenches!” took to the streets in the capital, and there were reports of protests elsewhere, including the Siberian cities of Ulan-Ude and Tomsk, as well as Khabarovsk near the Chinese border, according to Avtozak, a Russian protest monitoring group.

In Novosibirsk, footage shows people chanting: “I don’t want to die for Putin or you!”. There were also reports of protests in Kaliningrad, a Russian region sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania

Although the demonstrations were few and far between—not surprising given that the Russian government has threatened 15-year prison terms for anyone protesting the “special operation” in Ukraine—the fact that they happened at all was significant.

By Wednesday evening, there were reports that more than 700 people had been arrested. The Associated Press saw at least a dozen people arrested within 15 minutes of the start of the protests on the streets of Moscow.

The Vesna opposition movement has called for protests across the country, although it is unclear how many will act, given Russia’s tough laws against criticizing the military and the war.

“Thousands of Russian men – our fathers, brothers and husbands – will be thrown into the meat grinder of war. What will he die for? Why will mothers and children cry?” said the group.

Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny criticized Putin’s move from his prison cell, warning it would lead to a “mass tragedy”.

Navalny, who is serving more than 10 years in prison, said: “It is clear that the criminal war is worsening, deepening, and Putin is trying to involve as many people as possible in it. He wants to stain hundreds of thousands of people with this blood.”

In an address to the nation, the Russian president ordered as many as 300,000 military reservists to prepare for service in his country’s fight against its neighbor.

Putin also accused the West of considering using nuclear weapons against Russia and warned that Moscow would “use all means at our disposal” if threatened.

The protests came as thousands of people tried to flee the country after Putin ordered his recall earlier in the day.

A large number of Russians rushed to book one-way tickets out of the country while they still could. Flights filled up quickly and ticket prices skyrocketed, apparently driven by fears that Russia’s borders could soon be closed.

Reports of spreading panic among Russians soon flooded social media. Anti-war groups said the limited airfares out of Russia had skyrocketed because of high demand and quickly became unaffordable.

Some reports said people had already been turned back from Russia’s land border with Georgia and that the website of the state-run Russian railway company had crashed as too many people were being checked out of the country.

An elderly Russian woman fleeing the country, who identified herself as Yulia, said: “I want to say, ‘Freedom for Ukraine.’ Please, someone stop Putin,” she said.

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