Claims that most Russians have no idea what’s going on in Ukraine no longer bear scrutiny – if they ever did in the first place.
National protests over plans to draft hundreds of thousands of reservists into Moscow’s disastrous invasion of Ukraine will make it harder for people to even pretend nothing untoward is happening.
Vladimir Putin’s announcement of the partial mobilisation nails the lie that its actions in Ukraine are a minor military operation. The confirmation that thousands are being sent to die in their neighbouring country sparked rare protests across Russia and led to almost 1,200 arrests in cities including Moscow and St Petersburg, according to the independent Russian human rights group OVD-Info.
Associated Press journalists in Moscow witnessed at least a dozen arrests in the first 15 minutes of a night-time protest in the capital, with police hauling some away as they chanted: “No to war!”
“I’m not afraid of anything. The most valuable thing that they can take from us is the life of our children. I won’t give them the life of my child,” said one Muscovite.
In Yekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth-largest city, police dragged 40 protesters onto buses after an anti-war rally. One woman in a wheelchair called the Russian President a “goddamn, bald-headed nut job”. She yelled: “He’s going to drop a bomb on us, and we’re all still protecting him. I’ve said enough.”
The Vesna opposition movement called for protests, saying: “Thousands of Russian men – our fathers, brothers and husbands – will be thrown into the meat grinder of the war. What will they be dying for? What will mothers and children be crying for?”
All these protesters were remarkably brave given the draconian laws banning such actions that could see them jailed for 15 years.
Novaya Gazeta Europe, a spin-off of the now-barred Russian investigative newspaper, quoted an unnamed Kremlin source as saying that one part of Putin’s mobilisation decree, which was withheld from publication, allows the armed forces to draft a million personnel. This was denied by a Kremlin spokesman.
But the fear and anger created by Putin’s declaration is understandable. All Russian men are required to do a year’s military service between the ages of 18 and 27. Hence reports that thousands have been attempting to flee the country to Turkey, Armenia, central Asian states or even the Baltic nations, for fear of being used as cannon fodder in eastern Ukraine.
The unwilling recruits’ fears will hardly be allayed by reports that Putin is giving directions directly to generals in the field. The claims by CNN sources, if true, suggests Russia’s military effort could go from very bad to worse.
The powerful police state that the Russian President has constructed around him is more than capable of suppressing the current protests – as well demonstrations an order of magnitude larger. But the disorder will unnerve him. It will plant a little voice in his head that says somewhere down the line, a reckoning will come.