‘No to war!’: Anger over troop conscription rages in Russia

Thousands of men of fighting age have flocked to airports and Russia’s land border crossings, trying to avoid being called up.

A Russian soldier stands next to a mobile recruitment centre for military service in the city of Rostov-on-Don [File: Sergey Pivovarov/Reuters]

Hostility towards Russia’s troop mobilisation continues as violence broke out in an impoverished ethnic-minority region and a gunman opened fire at a recruitment office, seriously wounding the commandant.

A young man entered a military enlistment centre in the Siberian city of Ust-Ilimsk and shot the commander at close range on Monday morning.

Russian media reports said the attacker walked into the facility saying: “No one will go fight,” and “We will all go home now.” Local authorities said the commandant was in intensive care in “extremely grave” condition.

The man, identified in the media as 25-year-old resident Ruslan Zinin, was reportedly upset a call-up notice was served to his best friend who did not have any combat experience, which authorities say is the main criteria for the draft.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday acknowledged some call-ups had been issued in error and mistakes would be corrected. He said no decision had been made on closing Russia’s borders amid an exodus of military-age men.

‘Why take our children?’

In the southern Russian region of Dagestan, at least 100 people were detained at a protest opposing conscription on Sunday, underscoring the anger with President Vladimir Putin’s order to send hundreds of thousands more people to fight in Ukraine.

Public anger has appeared particularly strong in poor ethnic-minority areas such as Dagestan, a Muslim-majority region on the shores of the Caspian Sea in the mountainous north Caucasus.

Russia’s first military mobilisation since World War II, announced by Putin on Wednesday, has triggered protests in dozens of cities across the country.

The independent OVD-Info protest monitoring group said at least 100 people were detained in Dagestan’s regional capital Makhachkala. Dozens of videos posted on social media showed confrontations with police as protesters shouted: “No to war!”

Footage showed a group of women chasing away a police officer, while several clips captured violent clashes including police sitting on protesters as officers attempted to make arrests.

“Why are you taking our children?” one person shouted.

Police earlier fired warning shots into the air after dozens of demonstrators in Dagestan blocked a major road in protest against officials reportedly calling up more than 100 men from a village for military service.

Enlistment offices attacked

The Kremlin announced “a partial mobilisation” to add at least 300,000 troops to its force in Ukraine. According to the British military, the first batch of reservists has arrived at military bases.

The call-up, which marked a sharp shift from Putin’s previous efforts to portray the war as a limited “special military operation”, which would not interfere with most Russians’ lives, has proved extremely unpopular at home.

Thousands of men of fighting age flocked to airports and Russia’s land border crossings to avoid being called up. Russian media reported an increasing number of arson attacks on military enlistment offices.

Dagestan has already paid a heavy human toll during the seven-month war. According to a tally by the BBC’s Russian service, at least 301 soldiers from Dagestan have died – the most of any Russian region and more than 10 times the number of deaths from Moscow, which has a population five times larger.


‘Mistakes have been made’

Unauthorised rallies are illegal under Russia’s anti-protest laws and are rare outside of big cities.

More than 2,300 people have been detained at anti-mobilisation rallies in Russia since Putin announced the drive, said OVD-Info.

In an attempt to dispel public anger, Dagestan’s Governor Sergey Melikov said “mistakes have been made” in the mobilisation rollout in the region.

There have been several reports from across Russia of people with no military experience or parents of young children being called up in the draft – despite guarantees from defence minister Sergey Shoigu that they would be excluded.

Russia’s two most senior lawmakers – key Putin allies – also addressed public concerns about mobilisation, acknowledging “excesses” had stoked public anger.

‘De-mobilising these Russians’

The Ukrainian defence ministry ridiculed Moscow’s move, posting on Twitter a mash-up of social media videos of Russian police beating and arresting men protesting conscription.

“Russia still has remnants of a professional army” that the Ukrainian army “hasn’t yet destroyed”, it said in an English-language tweet, referring to this month’s rout of Russian forces from much of the northeastern Kharkiv region.

“Looks like we’ll be ‘de-mobilising’ these Russians ahead of schedule.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called on Russians to not submit to “criminal mobilisation”.

“The more citizens of the Russian Federation at least try to protect their own lives, the sooner this criminal war of Russia against the people of Ukraine will end,” he said.

The situation is “catastrophic” in Crimea where Russia is using mobilisation to call up native Crimean Tatars for service, he added.

“Why should their husbands, brothers, sons die in this war? For a war that one man wants. For a war against our people on our land. He [Putin] does not send his children to war,” said Zelenskyy in Russian.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies