LONDON, Sept 24 (Reuters) – The pro-Kremlin editor of Russia’s state-run RT news channel expressed anger on Saturday that enlisted officials were sending call-up papers to the wrong people as frustration grew over military mobilization.
Wednesday’s announcement of Russia’s first public mobilization since World War II to bolster its faltering war in Ukraine has sparked a rush at the border, the arrest of 1,000 protesters, and widespread public unrest.
It has also drawn criticism from the Kremlin’s own official supporters, something unheard of in Russia since the invasion began.
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“It has been announced that privates can be recruited up to the age of 35. Summons are sent to those under 40,” RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan alleged on her Telegram channel.
“They deliberately, out of hatred, anger people, like those sent by Kiev.”
In another rare sign of turmoil, the Defense Ministry said Deputy Minister for Logistics General Dmitry Bulgakov had been replaced by longtime military officer Colonel General Mikhail Mizhintsev “to be transferred to another role.”
Under UK, EU and Australian sanctions, Mizintsev has been dubbed the “Mutcher of Mariupol” by the EU for his role in the blockade of a Ukrainian port early in the war that killed thousands of civilians.
According to major Russian news agencies, Russia is set to formally annex part of Ukrainian territory next week. It follows so-called referendums in four of Ukraine’s occupied regions that began on Friday. Kiev and the West have denounced the vote as a sham and said the results in favor of annexation were predetermined.
Over 740 arrests
Officials have said the mobilization effort requires 300,000 troops, with priority given to those with recent military experience and key skills. The Kremlin denies reports by two foreign-based Russian news agencies that the actual target is higher than 1 million.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky – who has repeatedly urged Russians not to fight – has said he knows pro-Moscow officials are sending people to their deaths.
“Fleeing from this criminal mobilization is better than being crippled and then having to answer in court for participating in an aggressive war,” he said in a video address in Russian on Saturday.
Russia officially counts millions of ex-servicemen as reservists — most of the male population is of fighting age — and Wednesday’s order announcing “partial demobilization” gave no criteria for who would be called up.
Reports have emerged of men with no military experience or past draft age receiving call-up letters, reviving dormant — and banned — anti-war protests.
More than 1,300 protesters were arrested in 38 cities on Wednesday, and by Saturday evening more than 740 were detained in more than 30 cities and towns from St. Petersburg to Siberia, independent monitoring group OVD-Info reported.
Reuters images from St Petersburg showed police in helmets and riot gear pinning protesters to the ground and kicking one of them before loading them into vans.
Earlier, the head of the Kremlin’s human rights council, Valery Fadeyev, announced that he had written to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu with a request to “urgently resolve” the issues.
His Telegram post criticized the way the exemptions were used and listed cases of inappropriate admissions, including for nurses and midwives without military experience.
“Some (recruiters) hand out call sheets at 2 a.m. They think we’re all draft cheats,” he said.
On Friday, the Defense Ministry listed some sectors in which employers can nominate employees for exemptions.
There is a particular outcry among ethnic minorities in remote, impoverished regions of Siberia, where Russia’s professional armed forces have long recruited disproportionately.
Since Wednesday, people have been queuing for hours to get into Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Finland or Georgia, fearing Russia may close its borders, and the Kremlin says reports of exodus are exaggerated.
Asked by reporters at the United Nations on Saturday why so many Russians were leaving, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov pointed to the right to free movement.
The governor of Buryatia, which borders Mongolia and is home to the Mongolian minority, acknowledged that some had received documents incorrectly and said those without military experience or medical exemptions would be exempt.
On Saturday, Tsakhia Elbegdorj, Mongolia’s leader until 2017 and now head of the World Mongolian Federation, promised a warm welcome to those fleeing the draft, particularly the three Russian Mongolian groups, and bluntly called on Putin to end the war.
“Buryat Mongols, Tuva Mongols and Kalmyk Mongols … are used as cannon fodder,” he said in a video, wearing a Ukrainian yellow and blue ribbon.
“Today you are fleeing brutality, brutality and possible death. Tomorrow you will begin to liberate your country from tyranny.”
After the blitzkrieg of the Ukrainian offensive in the Kharkiv region this month, there has been a rush to rally and organize votes in the occupied territories – a sharp reversal of Moscow’s war.
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Reported by Reuters; Editing by Peter Graf, Francis Kerry, David Lungren and Daniel Wallis
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