MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin’s order to mobilize more troops to support his difficult military campaign in Ukraine has spread across Russia as the military is rapidly recruiting and signs of discontent appear to be spreading.
Announcing the decision on Wednesday, Putin described it as a “partial mobilization,” which he stressed affects only a small percentage of Russians with a military service background.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu ordered the immediate call-up of 300,000 additional soldiers – even more News reports suggested the actual number could be three times as high.
The Kremlin has tasked regional governors with overseeing the draft, and has increased penalties for conscientious objection or desertion to 10 years in prison.
In the meantime, the effects of the decree are becoming increasingly clear. Dozens of videos have surfaced on social media showing families and friends sending young recruits to fight. These were scenes few Russians could have imagined even last week. (NPR has not independently verified the images and footage.)
In Yakutia, in the far north of Russia, a band played the popular The WWII-era song “Katyusha” and onlookers applauded as a recruit was presented with a cake on a birthday coinciding with his deployment.
In Lipetsk, 300 miles south of Moscow, an orthodox priest blessed young conscripts in civilian clothes while mothers cried. “Mom, I’ll be back!” shouted a recruit as an officer ordered the group to march.
In Dagestan, in southern Russia, videos shown an argument in front of a recruiting station.
“My son has been fighting there since February!” says one woman, who compares the current conflict to the Soviet Union’s war against Nazi Germany in World War II.
“It was a war… but This it’s just politics!” replies a man.
Despite government assurances, only those with military service backgrounds are drafted, and there are several reports of drafts being sent to those with no prior military experience.
Amid uncertainty about the scope of the draft, news reports and social media posts showed long lines of cars secured at Russia’s border crossings Finland and Georgiain the west and Kazakhstan and Mongolia to the south.
Olivier Morin/AFP via Getty Images
Tickets for flights from Russia to visa-free countries – like Armenia and Turkey – have either sold out or gone up in price.
In Moscow, a channel of the social media app Telegram claimed Track the movements of recruiters across the city – even on the subway – in real time.
“At Baumanskaya station, officers stand next to the turnstile and stop people,” reads one post.
At the Park Pobedy train station, a group of National Guardsmen is standing right next to the escalator. Be careful friends,” says another.
Avtozak Live, a volunteer human rights monitoring group, reported as many as 100,000 people nine arson attacks were conducted in military recruiting centers or government buildings across Russia.
Human rights activists say police have been arrested more than 1,300 people at protests that erupted in dozens of Russian cities following Putin’s speech – with crowds chanting “No to war”! and “Putin in the trenches!”
Alexander Nemenov/AFP via Getty Images
Many are now facing potential legal troubles – after authorities warned protesters against violating new laws criminalizing “denigrating” Russian forces with lengthy prison sentences.
Several draft-age protesters claimed they were presented with drafts while in police custody – a move Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said defended as legally in a press conference.
Anti-war activists have called for additional anti-mobilization protests over the weekend.