September 24, 2022

Pictures and videos show police cracking down on protesters in several cities, with a recording shows several protesters at a demonstration in central Moscow being led away by police and authorities in St. Petersburg trying to control a crowd chanting “no mobilization” outside Saint Isaac’s Cathedral.

Police detained protesters in 38 cities in Russia on Wednesday, according to data released shortly after midnight by the independent monitoring group OVD-Info. A spokeswoman for the group, Maria Kuznetsova, said in a telephone interview with CNN that in at least four police stations in Moscow, some of the protesters arrested by riot police were recruited directly into the Russian military.

One of the detainees was threatened with criminal prosecution for refusing the summons, she said. The government announced that the penalty for refusing the draft is now 15 years in prison. Of the more than 1,300 people detained across the country, more than 500 were in Moscow and over 520 in St. Petersburg, according to OVD-Info.

The demonstrations followed a morning address by Putin, in which he laid out a plan that raises the stakes of his war in Ukraine, including for the Russian people, at a time when a surprise counteroffensive from Kiev has recaptured thousands of square miles of territory and put Moscow on its back. Experts say that his forces are significantly depleted.
According to the announced “partial mobilization”, 300,000 reservists will be called up, said Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Putin said those with military experience would be subject to conscription, and stressed that the decree — which has already been signed — was necessary to “protect our homeland, its sovereignty and its territorial integrity.”

The regulation itself does not apply only to reservists. Enables “call [of] of citizens of the Russian Federation for military service by mobilization in the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.”

During his address, Putin raised the issue of nuclear weapons, saying he would use “all means at our disposal” if he felt Russia’s “territorial integrity” was threatened. He also backed referendums on joining Russia that Russian-appointed leaders in four occupied regions of Ukraine announced they would hold this week.

The concern among Russian citizens was palpable on Wednesday, with travel agency websites showing a a dramatic increase in demand for flights to places where Russians don’t need a visa. Flight websites say direct flights to such countries are sold out until at least Friday.
Riot police detain a protester during an anti-war protest in Moscow, Russia, on September 21.
The protests, most of which appeared to draw a few dozen people, were another strong signal of the desperation some felt. Dissent is usually quickly stifled in Russia, and authorities have placed further restrictions on free speech following the invasion of Ukraine.

Social media footage shows several protesters in Ulan-Ude, eastern Siberia, holding signs reading “No to war! No to mobilization!” and “Our husbands, fathers and brothers do not want to kill other husbands and fathers!”

“We want our fathers, husbands and brothers to stay alive… and not leave their children as orphans. Stop the war and don’t take our people!” said one protester.

A video from Yekaterinburg in western Russia shows police clashing with several protesters. CNN could not independently verify footage from either city.

Another video posted by a journalist from the Moscow-based online publication The Village shows dozens of people on Arbatskaya Street chanting “Let him go” as one man is taken away.

Putin is trying to raise the stakes in Ukraine.  Here's what that means

Moscow’s prosecutor’s office on Wednesday also warned citizens not to join protests or distribute information calling for participation — reminding people they could face up to 15 years in prison.

Putin’s announcement of a “partial mobilization” was condemned by Western leaders, many of whom met at the opening UN General Assembly (UNGA) in New York.

In a rare joint statement, British Prime Minister Liz Truss and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Wednesday that they both agreed that Putin’s announcement of a partial mobilization of Russian citizens was a sign of “weakness.”

Ukraine remained defiant in the face of the announcement, with President Volodymyr Zelensky telling the UN General Assembly in a pre-recorded address on Wednesday that Russia was “afraid of real (peace) negotiations” and pointing to what he characterized as Russian “lies”.

Russia “talks about negotiations, but announces military mobilization,” Zelensky said. “Russia wants war.”

Katya Krebs, Uliana Pavlova, Gianluca Mezzofiore and Anastasia Graham-Yooll, Sugam Pokharel, Clare Sebastian, Idris Muktar and Stephanie Halasz contributed to this report.

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