Growing complaints about Russia’s chaotic mobilization

LONDON, Sept 24 (Reuters) – A strongly pro-Kremlin editor for Russia’s state-run RT news channel expressed anger on Saturday as discontent over military mobilization grew and recruiting officials sent recruiting documents to the wrong people.

Russia on Wednesday announced its first public mobilization since World War II in support of its faltering war in Ukraine, sparking a border frenzy, the arrest of more than 1,000 protesters and wider disquiet.

It has also drawn criticism from official Kremlin supporters, almost unheard of since the Russian invasion began.

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“It has been announced that soldiers under the age of 35 can be recruited. Summons will be issued to those who are 40,” RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan complained on her Telegram channel.

“They’re pissing people off, like it’s intentional, like it’s malicious. It’s like they were sent from Kyiv.”

In another rare sign of unrest, the Defense Ministry said the deputy minister in charge of logistics, General Dmitry Bulgakov, had been replaced by a colonel “transferred to another role.” General Mikhail Mizintsev, a longtime Army officer.

Under sanctions from Britain, the European Union and Australia, Mizantsev has been dubbed the “Butcher of Mariupol” by the European Union for plotting a siege of Ukrainian ports early in the war that killed thousands of civilians.

Russia appears to be preparing to formally annex large swathes of Ukraine next week, the main Russian news agency reported. It comes after so-called referendums began on Friday in the four occupied territories of Ukraine. Kyiv and the West condemned the vote as a hoax and said the outcome in favor of annexation was predetermined.

More than 740 people will be arrested tomorrow

For mobilization efforts, officials said 300,000 soldiers were needed, with priority given to those with recent military experience and vital skills. The Kremlin has denied reports by two foreign Russian news outlets that the real target exceeded 1 million.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has repeatedly urged the Russians not to fight, saying pro-Moscow authorities knew they were sending people to death.

“Better to escape this criminal mobilization than to be maimed and then have to answer in court to participate in a war of aggression,” he said in Russian in a video address on Saturday.

Russian officials treat millions of former conscripts as reservists — mostly a male population of combat age — and the decree announcing the “partial mobilization” on Wednesday does not specify who will be drafted into the military.

Reports of men with no military experience or past draft age receiving draft papers have fueled anger and revived dormant and banned anti-war demonstrations.

More than 1,300 protesters were arrested in 38 towns on Wednesday, and more than 740 were detained in more than 30 towns in St. Petersburg on Saturday night. From St. Petersburg to Siberia, according to the independent monitoring group OVD-Info.

Reuters image via St. St. Petersburg showed police in helmets and riot gear pinning protesters to the ground and kicking one of them before loading them into a van.

Earlier, the head of the Kremlin’s human rights committee, Valery Fadeyev, announced that he had written to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu asking for an “urgent solution” to the issue.

His Telegram post criticized how exemptions were applied and listed cases of inappropriate enlistment, including nurses and midwives with no military experience.

“Some (recruiters) turned in call-up papers at 2 a.m. as if they thought we were all draft dodgers,” he said.

‘cannon fodder’

On Friday, the Department of Defense listed some departments where employers can nominate employees for exemptions.

Protests have been particularly strong among ethnic minorities in remote, impoverished regions of Siberia, which have long been disproportionately recruited by Russia’s professional armed forces.

People have queued for hours to enter Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Finland or Georgia since Wednesday amid fears Russia could close its borders, even though the Kremlin said reports of exodus had been exaggerated.

Asked by reporters at the United Nations on Saturday why so many Russians were leaving, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov pointed to the right to freedom of movement.

The governor of the Buryat region, which borders Mongolia and is home to a Mongolian minority, acknowledged that some had received documents by mistake and said those with no military experience or medical exemptions would be exempt.

On Saturday, Mongolian president until 2017 and current president of the World Federation of Mongolians, Tsakhia Elbegdorj, pledged a warm welcome to those fleeing the draft, especially three Russian Mongolian groups, and made a blunt appeal to Putin to end the war.

“The Buryat Mongols, the Tuvan Mongols and the Kalmyk Mongols … were just used as cannon fodder,” he said in a video, wearing a Ukrainian yellow and blue ribbon.

“Today you are fleeing brutality, cruelty and possible death. Tomorrow you will begin to free your country from dictatorship.”

Mobilization and hastily organized votes in the occupied territories came shortly after Ukraine’s lightning offensive against the Kharkiv region this month – Moscow’s most drastic reversal of the war.

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Reporting in Reuters; Editing by Peter Graff, Frances Kerry, David Ljunggren and Daniel Wallis

Our Standard: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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