Due to the announced partial mobilization, crowds of Russians are starting to leave the country, wanting to avoid being drafted into the army. Long queues form at the borders and flights to some destinations are hopelessly sold out. At the same time as the mobilization law, the government of Vladimir Putin hastily started approving the tightening of punishments committed during mobilization. For example, Russians face up to 10 years in prison for disobeying a call-up order, surrendering or damaging military equipment, according to the amendment. While the European part of Russia is minimally affected by conscription, representatives of non-ethnic Russians speak of 100 percent mobilization.
Although the Kremlin has long denied that there should be a mobilization due to the “special military operation”, Vladimir Putin finally announced in a speech on Wednesday that he had already signed the decision. Given the ongoing Ukrainian counter-offensive and the current situation at the front, this step was apparently expected by many Russians.
According to early reports, long crowds were forming at conscription points in remote parts of Russia. It wasn’t a coincidence. According to observers, the mobilization was concentrated on them, while men from Moscow and St. Petersburg are only marginally affected. “Putin’s mobilization works asymmetrically: partial mobilization in big cities, total mobilization in remote rural regions. We don’t have the data yet, but this mobilization may include elements of ethnic cleansing,” often-quoted analyst Kamil Galeyev said on Twitter.
The British newspaper The Guardian also came up with a similar finding, which reported on how the first day of mobilization looked like in Buryatsk in eastern Siberia. The words of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who claimed that in the first phase, the army will deport people from 26 to 30 years old, do not apply there at all. In Buryatia, even men in their fifties receive conscription orders.
“It’s not a partial mobilization, it’s a 100% mobilization,” said Alexandra Garmažapova, president of the Free Buryat Foundation. In the past day, she and her colleagues received more than 3,000 reports of conscription orders that men received within 24 hours of Vladimir Putin’s announcement of mobilization. According to The Guardian, the first signs of resistance appeared in the east.
Disapproval of mobilization was more pronounced in the European part of Russia. Already on Wednesday, one-way tickets to some destinations where Russians do not need visas were sold out. Russians flee by air mainly to Turkey, Azerbaijan or Armenia. At the road border crossings to Mongolia, Finland or Georgia there were queues of several hours. According to the Reuters agency, there was also panic among the Russians due to the threat of closing the borders to men. On Wednesday evening, stormy anti-war demonstrations were also held in a number of large cities.
“In the first wave, two groups of people should be mobilized, called up for military service. The first of these will be young men between the ages of 22 and 26 who have recently completed basic, mandatory military service, as well as reserve officers in the required military specialties – such as gunners, tankers, scouts, marines, paratroopers, special forces, pilots, soldiers air defense, etc.,” Dušan Rovenský, a former soldier and editor of the specialized Army Technical Magazine (ATM), comments for the Echo24 daily.
Fear in the eyes of ordinary Russians is also caused by the hastily prepared change of legislation, which envisages stricter punishments for crimes committed during mobilization, the new norm introduces the concepts of “mobilization” and “state of war” into the criminal code, which were not included in it before.
Refusal to join the army, desertion or surrender will now be punishable by up to ten years in prison, a five-year sentence for destroying weapons and up to 15 years for looting during a declared state of war. The Russian State Duma, the lower house of the parliament, approved the amendment already on the eve of the mobilization on Tuesday, and the senators also approved it on Wednesday.
Shortly after the start of the invasion of Ukraine, criminal liability was introduced for “spreading disinformation” and false information about the Russian army. The conflict must not be officially referred to as a war, but only a “special military operation”.
The military authorities, which are supposed to supervise the conscription, have already announced that they will strictly supervise compliance with the mobilization decree and will not tolerate any efforts to avoid the obligation to join the army.