Demonstrators have taken to the streets in several cities in Russia to protest against President Vladimir Putin’s decree to partially mobilise reservists in the country’s armed forces.
Hundreds of people were arrested at anti-mobilisation rallies in cities including Moscow and St Petersburg on Wednesday, according to an independent protest monitoring group.
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Protesters in Moscow chanted “No to war!” and “Life to our children!” The Associated Press news agency reported.
In St Petersburg, protesters chanted “No mobilisation!”, the AFP news agency reported.
“Everyone is scared. I am for peace and I don’t want to have to shoot. But coming out now is very dangerous, otherwise, there would be many more people,” said protester Vasily Fedorov, a student wearing a pacifist symbol on his chest.
“I came to say that I am against war and mobilisation,” Oksana Sidorenko, a student, told AFP.
“Why are they deciding my future for me? I’m scared for myself, for my brother,” she added.
Despite Russia’s harsh laws against criticising the military and the war, protests took place across the country. More than 1,300 Russians were arrested in anti-war demonstrations in 38 cities, according to the independent Russian human rights group OVD-Info.
The Russian news agency Interfax quoted the interior ministry as saying it had quashed attempts to “organise unauthorised gatherings”.
All the demonstrations were stopped and those who committed “violations” were arrested and led away by police pending an investigation and prosecution, it added.
Earlier, the anti-war movement Vesna Youth Democratic Movement called for demonstrations.
“We call on the Russian military in units and at the frontline to refuse to participate in the ‘special operation’ or to surrender as soon as possible,” Vesna said in an appeal on its website, referring to the Russia-Ukraine war.
“You don’t have to die for Putin,” the statement continued. “You are needed in Russia by those who love you. For the authorities, you are just cannon fodder, where you will be squandered without any meaning or purpose.”
The website also included a hotline for soldiers within the military who do not want to participate in the war.
The demonstrations came after Putin’s televised address earlier on Wednesday, where he said he was defending Russian territories and that the West wanted to destroy the country.
“We are talking about partial mobilisation, that is, only citizens who are currently in the reserve will be subject to conscription, and above all, those who served in the armed forces have a certain military specialty and relevant experience,” he said.
According to Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu, about 300,000 reservists will be called up.
The mobilisation is being carried out to control “already liberated territories” Shoigu said, in reference to the Russian-controlled regions in eastern and southern Ukraine.
Russian-backed separatists in those areas said they will hold referendums on becoming part of Russia between September 23-27.