On Wednesday, September 21st, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the partial mobilization of 300,000 reservists to fight in Ukraine, the first time since the Second World War that Russia has mobilized troops. As a result of this announcement, protests have broken out across Russia, with more than 2,000 people being arrested across 43 cities. Unsanctioned rallies are banned under Russian law, and there are reports of police violence emerging from the demonstrations.
So far, the Kremlin has stated that IT workers, bankers and journalists working for state media will not be called upon in the partial mobilization. However, there have been reports of elderly and disabled men being selected by local recruiting officers. Furthermore, on Saturday, September 24th, Putin signed additional decrees imposing punishments of up to 10 years in prison for any soldier caught surrendering, attempting to desert the military or refusing to fight. The Kremlin has defended their actions by stating that “it is not against the law.”
Since the announcement of mobilization, harsh punishments coupled with the price of one-way flights leaving Russia increasing significantly, many young men are fleeing the country to neighbouring European nations such as Finland, Georgia, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Kazakhstan. One of the longest lines to leave Russia is at the Georgian border where cars were lined up for more than 18 miles. The FSB, Russia’s main security service sent an armoured personnel carrier to the border in an attempt to stop Russian reservists from leaving the country without going through passport control. Kazakhstan also saw long trails of cars lined up near the Petukhova checkpoint on the border.
Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia’s governments have responded to the announcement, stating they will not offer refuge to any Russians fleeing mobilization. Estonian’s foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu stated that “a refusal to fulfil one’s civic duty in Russia … does not constitute sufficient grounds for being granted asylum in another country.” However, some 20,000 residents living in Estonia with Russian citizenship have been warned against answering the draft. Former Estonian chief of intelligence Eerik-Niiles Kross stated that Estonia “will not stop anyone [from following] the orders, but participation in a crime against peace is a criminal offence under Estonian law.” He added that if an Estonian resident joined the Russian military in the war against Ukraine, they will “lose their residency permit and will be banned from the EU. There is no return for those who go.” However, if a Russian living in Estonia receives a mobilization order and decides not to go, Estonia will give them legal protection, and will not let Russia force anyone.
Edgars Rinkēvičs, Latvia’s foreign minister said that “many Russians who [are now fleeing] Russia because of mobilization were fine with killing Ukrainians, they did not protest then. It is not right to consider them as conscientious objectors.” In an attempt to reduce the number of Russians seeking to enter the country, the Finish government has announced plans to stop Russian tourists from entering, with President Sauli Niinistö telling the state broadcaster that “the aspiration and purpose [of halting tourism from Russia] is to significantly reduce the number of people coming to Finland from Russia.” Taking a different stance is Germany, whose interior minister Nancy Faeser stated that those fleeing Russia due to mobilization would be welcome. She added that deserters threatened by severe repression would receive protection on a case-by-case basis, following security checks.
Whilst mobilization of army reserves is legal and not unheard-of during times of war, what this week’s announcement reminds us of is that many ordinary Russians do not want to play a part in what many world leaders are calling “one man’s war.”
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