Scenes of chaos in Russia’s poorest regions have filled social media as police in Russia’s poorest republics such as Dagestan, Buryatia and Yakutia try to round up conscripts for the front line in Ukraine.
“Why are you sending our sons to Ukraine? They will just burn in tanks,” one woman in a market place in Dagestan screamed at a tubby police officer trying to take the young men away.
In another clip another police officer was arguing with a mother, when a young man came up behind him and started swinging, knocking the officer to the ground. Across the region police were barely in control of the situation as the would-be conscripts fought back, outnumbering the police and plainclothes officers trying to manhandle them onto buses leaving for the military camps.
Police have been struggling to control the crowds, with fights breaking out frequently at collection areas. (video) On the first day of the roll-call one officer opened up with a machine gun, firing over the heads of the young men gathered on a square full of buses, in an attempt to restore order. (video)
The mobilisation drive so far has been chaotic, has provoked protests in Russian cities, civil unrest in the Republic of Dagestan, and even assault on military conscription officers.
In one of the most shocking incidents a man shot a recruitment officer at point blank range, causing the rest of the recruits to flee the room. The officer was not killed but is reported to be in a serious condition. (video)
Airline tickets for the few visa-free destinations have reportedly sold out for weeks ahead, while traffic jams are reported on the land crossings out of Russia.
Russia is getting closer to shutting the borders for men of conscription age amid Vladimir Putin’s “partial” mobilisation for the war in Ukraine, as The Bell reported that airports have started receiving lists of mobilised men from the conscription centres.
The police have been brutal in their treatment of the conscripts refusing to answer their draft papers. Police backed by plainclothes security officers have been grabbing young men from the street and frog-marching them to awaiting buses. In another clip a man in Dagestan was being led away by three uniformed officers and as many plainclothes policemen when a fourth officer walked up to the group and hit the detainee in face, causing him to retaliate with a head-but. (video)
The recruitment drive has focused on regions with big ethnic minorities, but there were also reports from Moscow where Tajik migrant workers complained that Russian officers were slipping in a one-page military service contract into the pile of documents the workers need to sign to get their work permits for Russia. Migrant workers left Russia en masse during the pandemic, partly driven out by the deep devaluation of the ruble, as they sent their wages home in dollars. But since the ruble has rallied strongly since the start of the war they have been attracted by a large de facto pay rise thanks to the value of the ruble firming against the dollar.
The press gang is going on country-wide, albeit at a lower level in the richer cities of European Russia. Police have been roaming the metro in Moscow with mandatory call-up papers that they are forcing on anyone of military service age. bne IntelliNews’ correspondent in Moscow reports that the streets and metro are empty of young men, who are staying at home to avoid encounters with the police.
“In the first days after Putin announced the mobilisation nothing much had changed, but in the last day the mood has definitely changed,” bne IntelliNews’ reporter said by phone. “The streets are empty, and everyone is staying home until this is over.”
There have been protests beyond the poor regions and even in Moscow, but OMON police officers in full riot gear have been quick to squash any gathering, brutally beating protestors, including women, and carting off the young men to conscription centres. (video)
Run for the border
The lines at Moscow’s main airports of those trying to check in for flights out of the country spilled out of the airport building and onto the street, as young people tried to escape ahead of the closing of the borders anticipated later this week. (video)
Airlines have been ordered to refuse the sale of tickets to males between the ages of 18 and 35 but thousands still have tickets and are seeking to leave in the next few days while it is still possible.
That has led to tens of thousands making for the land crossings. The Baltic States and Finland have now closed their borders to Russian “tourists” trying to escape, and hour-long queues of cars have arrived at the borders to Georgia and Armenia, which remain open. At the Georgian border the authorities have allowed Russians to cross on foot at what was a car-only crossing due to the inundation of refuseniks seeking to avoid the draft. (video)
Sources close to the presidential administration told Meduza that a full-scale exit ban for men of conscription age is on the agenda and could be enforced after completing the annexation of occupied Ukrainian territories as soon as September 28.
So far over 260,000 Russians, almost all men of military service age, have left for neighbouring countries, according to reports – almost as many men as the 300,000 servicemen the Kremlin was hoping to call up.
Putin escalated the war in Ukraine by announcing partial mobilisation amid a successful Ukrainian counter-offensive that swept Russian forces out of the Kharkiv region and retook villages in the Luhansk region, which had been fully occupied by Russia.
While Putin called the mobilisation “partial” and the Ministry of Defence clarified that about 300,000 people are ready for a military call-up, lawyers surveyed by The Bell and Meduza warned that the law spearheaded to regulate the emergency draft is phrased in broad terms and allows for indiscriminate military recruitment. Sources for both Meduza and The Bell separately said that the Kremlin may be intending to conscript between 1mn and 1.2mn men respectively. Kyiv has responded by saying it will call up 5mn men if needed to continue the efforts to expel Russians from its territory.