Russian protesters 'ordered to enlist to Ukraine war effort'

People arresed at protests against partial mobilisation plans are being offered choice of enlisting or long prison sentences

Russian conscripts attend a ceremony before their departure for their garrisons in Omsk, Russia. Reuters
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Some Russians who participated in protests against President Vladimir Putin's partial mobilisation have been handed draft papers while in custody, the OVD-Info rights group said on Thursday.

Protests have been held — and swiftly broken up by police — in cities across the country following Mr Putin's announcement of the first large-scale mobilisation in Russia since the Second World War.

The rights group said some of the 1,310 protesters that had been detained were presented with summons to enlist. One protester in Moscow was told they faced a 10-year jail sentence for refusing to receive an enlistment order, it said.

Under Russian law, police have the power to stop people who are thought to be evading mobilisation. The law provides for lengthy, years-long prison terms and hefty fines for those dodging the draft without legal grounds for exemption.

“Information was received from 15 police departments that the detained men were handed a summons to the military registration and enlistment office,” OVD-Info said in a statement.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to deny reports that some protesters had been given draft papers, saying only: “This is not against the law.” The police could not be reached for immediate comment, nor could the draft office.

Journalists have also reportedly been ordered to enlist. Russian TV channel Dozhd said that Artem Kriger, a journalist at the news site Sota, was given a draft summons after being arrested while covering anti-mobilisation protests in Moscow.

Protests against mobilisation of reservists in Moscow — in pictures

Some Russian men rushed for the borders on Thursday after Mr Putin's mobilisation order, with traffic at frontier crossings with Finland and Georgia surging and prices for air tickets from Moscow rocketing.

Adding to the thousands fleeing Russia to avoid serving in the war against Ukraine, Dmitri flew to Armenia with one small bag, leaving behind his wife and children.

“I don't want to go to the war,” he told AFP. “I don't want to die in this senseless war. This is a fratricidal war.”

Mr Putin's decision this week to mobilise several hundred thousand reservists has spurred a fresh exodus over the country's borders.

“The situation in Russia would make anyone want to leave,” said another new arrival, 44-year-old Sergey, who travelled with his teenage son.

Looking lost and exhausted in an Armenian airport, he confirmed that they had fled “because of the mobilisation”, but refused to give his full name.

“We choose not to wait to be called up,” said his 17-year-old son Nikolai. “I am not panicking, but I feel this uncertainty.”

It was a sentiment shared by other Russians arriving off the same flight to Yerevan.

More than 1,000 arrested in Russian anti-war protests — video

“It's wrong to go to war in the 21st century — to put it mildly,” Alexei, 39, told AFP.

He was not sure if he would ever be able return to Russia, he added. “It all depends on the situation.”

Military-aged men made up the majority of those arriving off the latest flight from Moscow. Many were reluctant to speak.

Yerevan has become a major destination for Russians fleeing since the war in Ukraine began on February 24.

Since then, Armenia says at least 40,000 Russians have arrived in the small Caucasus country, once a part of the Soviet Union.

About 50,000 Russians have fled to neighbouring Georgia, national statistics from June showed.

The Kremlin on Thursday dismissed as “fake” reports that Russians eligible for mobilisation were rushing for the exit.

“A great deal of false information has emerged about this,” said Kremlin spokesman Mr Peskov.

But flights out of Russia were nearly fully booked for the week ahead to cities in the nearby former Soviet countries of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

On social media, many users voiced fears Russia would seal its borders.

President Putin announces partial military mobilisation — video

Germany's Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said on Thursday Russian deserters could “obtain international protection” in her country.

Finnish border authorities said on Thursday they had seen an increase in traffic from Russia following Mr Putin's announcement. But it stressed that the influx was still at relatively low levels.

At the Vaalimaa border crossing in Finland, a line of cars about 150 metres long could be seen on Thursday afternoon.

“It was busy in the morning and at night, but now it's starting to calm down,” Elias Laine, a border guard there, told AFP.

A 23-year-old project manager from Moscow told AFP the mobilisation had pushed forward his plans to leave Russia by October.

“I'm eligible for the call-up,” he explained.

“Some people went to protests because they've got nothing to lose. Others are looking into laws and talking lawyers to find out whether they can be conscripted.”

And back in Yerevan, another Russian who had managed to get out said he was “shocked” by Mr Putin's mobilisation announcement.

“Almost nobody supports the war,” he said. “This is all so painful. I want all of this to end soon.”

He declined to give either his first or last name, citing security concerns.

Updated: September 22, 2022, 11:16 PM