Thousands of Russians mobilised for military service in Ukraine have been sent home after being deemed unfit for duty, the latest setback to President Vladimir Putin’s conscription of 300,000 servicemen.
Mikhail Degtyarev, the governor of the Khabarovsk region in Russia’s far east, said several thousand men had reported for enlistment in 10 days but many were ineligible.
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“About half of them we returned home as they did not meet the selection criteria for entering the military service,” Degtyarev said in a video post on the Telegram messaging app.
He said the military commissar in Russia’s Khabarovsk region was removed, but that his dismissal would not affect the mobilisation.
Russia’s first call to arms since World War II, declared on September 21, led to widespread discontent and drove thousands of men to flee abroad.
The move was billed as enlisting those with military experience.
Meanwhile, criticism over Putin’s war in Ukraine has been growing at home.
Some 2,000 people were arrested at anti-war protests in more than 30 towns and cities, with independent news outlets saying some detained were served summons to report at military enlistment offices.
Russian officials usually supportive of the president also expressed anger over the mobilisation move, in a rare show of dissent.
Among them, Valentina Matviyenko, the chairwoman of Russia’s upper house, the Federation Council, said mistakes made in sending call-up papers were “absolutely unacceptable”.
The Russian military appeared increasingly in turmoil on Monday as it suffered a stinging setback in its strategic rail hub of Lyman, in the Donetsk region.
Ukrainian forces claimed that their recapture of the major bastion sets the stage for further advances that could cut off thousands of Russian troops from all supplies as winter sets in.
Ukraine’s lightning counteroffensive in September has put into question Russia’s ability to control the Donbas.
Putin on September 30 proclaimed the annexation of four regions covering nearly a fifth of Ukraine, an area that includes Lyman.
Kyiv and the West have condemned the move as a meaningless war tactic following referendums conducted during the occupation and without oversight.
The announcement, which brings the annexed territories under Russia’s nuclear umbrella, constitutes the most serious escalation of the conflict since Moscow invaded Ukraine in February, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said.
Al Jazeera’s Mohamed Vall, reporting from Moscow, said Russia’s lower parliament was expected on Monday to ratify a draft constitutional law allowing the admission of the new provinces, which Russia now calls “independent”.
“Nobody expects any vote against these treaties,” Vall said, despite the reality on the field shifting in favour of Ukraine.
In a separate development, Putin ally Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Russia’s southern Chechnya region, called for the use of “low-yield nuclear weapons” to defend Russia’s “territorial integrity”.
The United States said it would respond decisively to any use of nuclear weapons and has warned Moscow of “catastrophic consequences”.