Russian military mobilisation begins despite protests around the country

Conscripted men, flanked by security forces, wait to board a bus to a registration centre on September 22, 2022.
Conscripted men, flanked by security forces, wait to board a bus to a registration centre on September 22, 2022. © Twitter / @Vasilisa_2_0

Videos shared online show hundreds of Russian men of fighting age leaving for the Ukrainian front after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a partial military mobilisation on September 21. Several impromptu protests against the call-up have since been held, leading to hundreds of arrests.

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Several hours after a referendum was announced to integrate the regions of Donbas, Kherson and Zaporizhia into Russia, Vladimir Putin made a television address on September 21. He announced the partial military mobilisation to reinforce troops on the Ukrainian front. This is the first time such a draft has been triggered by the Russian state since the Second World War.

Putin specified that the mobilisation only concerned "citizens currently in the reserve", specifically "those who have already served in the armed forces and have specific military specialities".

A few minutes later, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu announced that the state was seeking to recruit nearly 300,000 reservists. At the same time, the Kremlin's troops on the ground in Ukraine are retreating in the face of the counter-offensive launched by Ukrainians.  

A contested announcement

Shortly after the announcement, hundreds of Russians took to the streets to protest the draft and reaffirm their opposition to the war in Ukraine.

In Moscow, several hundred people gathered on the Arbat, one of the capital's busiest pedestrian streets, to say no to the war in Ukraine.
Opponents of the call-up who gathered on Nevsky Avenue in St. Petersburg were quickly surrounded by law enforcement.

These small-scale demonstrations were quickly suppressed by Russian security forces, who made numerous arrests across the country. According to the Russian non-governmental organisation OVD, which monitors protests in Russia and keeps a regular tally of arrests, at least 1,330 people were arrested during the protests on September 21 in 42 cities.

Putin's announcement of the partial mobilisation also led to a large number of people fleeing the country for fear of not being able to depart later. Airline websites were inundated with enquiries: direct flights to Istanbul, Yerevan and Belgrade, for example, swiftly sold out, while prices soared in the face of heightened demand. 

Hundreds of other Russians got into their cars and headed for the country’s borders with Georgia, Finland and Serbia. Finnish border guards confirmed an increase in crossings, although the numbers are still quite limited.

At the Upper Lars border crossing, a line of hundreds of cars formed in an attempt to reach neighbouring Georgia.
At the Upper Lars border crossing, a line of hundreds of cars formed in an attempt to reach neighbouring Georgia. © @AlexandreGTKS

Just how many have left is still unknown, but the German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said on Thursday that the country was ready to welcome deserters from the Russian army, given the "threat of serious repression" that they face.

A bumpy start to the mobilisation

Starting Wednesday afternoon, thousands of reservists were called to go to recruitment centres to register, before leaving to train for their deployment in Ukraine.

Several videos have emerged in recent days showing hundreds of men boarding buses with their belongings, from the Republic of Dagestan to the Republic of Yakutia.

In this video, men wait to get on a bus to report for duty. A child can be heard shouting: "Daddy, goodbye, please come back".
The mobilisation has also begun in remote areas of Russia, such as here in Sokol, in the Far Eastern district. Men gather on the tarmac for a briefing before boarding an Antonov AN-12 for the west.

The partial mobilisation has affected many families, some of whom have sent young relatives into combat and triggered strong reactions around Russia.

This Moscow family is mourning the departure of one of their sons, who was called up to serve in the army. Several similar scenes of crying families are circulating on social networks.
Several conscripted men shout at a woman in charge of registering them in Dagestan.

Other videos, presumably filmed by conscripts themselves, show several reservists, visibly drunk, as buses take them for registration or training.

In Yuzhno-Kurilsk, in the Kuril Islands archipelago, drunken conscripts fight each other before their departure.