MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin’s order to mobilize more troops to bolster his ailing military campaign in Ukraine has reverberated across Russia, as the military rapidly recruits new recruits and signs of discontent appear spread.
Putin announced the decision on Wednesday, calling it a “partial mobilization” which he said affects only a small percentage of Russians with military training.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu ordered the immediate call-up of 300,000 more troops, even as several news reports suggested the actual number could be three times higher.
The Kremlin tasked regional governors with overseeing the project and toughened penalties for refusal of service or desertion to 10 years in prison.
Meanwhile, the impact of the executive order is becoming increasingly clear. Dozens of videos have emerged on social media showing families and friends seeing young recruits fight. These are scenes few Russians could have imagined even last week. (NPR has not independently verified the images and footage.)
In Yakutia, in Russia’s far north, a band played the popular WWII-era song ‘Katyusha’ and onlookers cheered as a recruit received a cake for a birthday that coincided with its deployment.
In Lipetsk, 500 km south of Moscow, an Orthodox priest blessed young civilian conscripts while the mothers wept. “Mom, I’m coming back!” shouted a recruit as an officer ordered the group to march.
In Dagestan, in southern Russia, videos showed an argument outside a recruitment post.
“My son has been fighting there since February! says a woman who compares the current conflict to the Soviet Union’s war with Nazi Germany in World War II.
“It was a war… but this is just politics!” retorted a man.
Despite government assurances that only those with military backgrounds will be drafted, there are many reports of draft documents being sent to people with no prior military experience.
Amid uncertainty over the scope of the project, news reports and social media posts showed long lines of cars stuck at Russia’s border crossings with Finland and Georgia to the west, and Kazakhstan and Mongolia to the south.
Olivier Morin/AFP via Getty Images
Tickets for flights out of Russia to countries where travel is visa-free – such as Armenia and Turkey – have either sold out or have skyrocketed.
In Moscow, a channel from the social media app Telegram claimed track the movements of recruitment agents in real time throughout the city — even the metro.
“At Baumanskaya station, officers stand by the turnstile to arrest people,” a post read.
At the Park Pobedy station, a group of National Guardsmen is right next to the escalator. Cautious friends,” said another.
Avtozak Live, a voluntary human rights monitoring group, reported that up to nine arson attacks had been carried out against military recruiting centers or government buildings across Russia.
Rights campaigners claim police have been arrested more than 1,300 people in protests that erupted in dozens of Russian cities after Putin’s speech – with crowds shouting “No to war!” and “Putin in the trenches!”
Alexander Nemenov/AFP via Getty Images
Many are now facing possible legal issues – after authorities warned that protesters risk breaking new laws that criminalize the “bashing” of the Russian armed forces with lengthy prison sentences.
Several draft-age protesters claimed they were given draft papers while in police custody – a move that Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov defended as legal in a press briefing.
Anti-war activists called for additional protests against the mobilization over the weekend.