More than 1,300 people have been arrested following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement of partial mobilisation of reserves to fight in Ukraine which led to nationwide protests on Wednesday, according to a police monitoring group. The OVD-Info monitoring group capped the number of people arrested at 1,332 at rallies in 38 different cities across the country after Putin’s morning address to the nation, reported news agency AFP.
The protests are seen as the largest in Russia since demonstrations erupted after Moscow’s military intervention in Ukraine in February. Putin also reiterated warnings of a nuclear threat. “When the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people,” he said in a televised national address Wednesday. “This is not a bluff.”
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Chants Of “No mobilisation!” Slogans
Protesters were chanting “No mobilisation!” “Everyone is scared. I am for peace and I don’t want to have to shoot. But coming out now is very dangerous, otherwise there would be many more people,” student protester Vasily Fedorov wearing a pacifist symbol on his chest told AFP.
“I came out to the rally planning to participate, but it looks like they’ve already arrested everyone. This regime has condemned itself and is destroying its youth,” said a 60-year-old resident Alexei “Why are you serving Putin, a man who’s been in power for 20 years!” a young protester shouted at one policeman. “I came to say that I am against war and mobilisation,” Oksana Sidorenko, a student, told AFP. “Why are they deciding my future for me? I’m scared for myself, for my brother,” she added.
Curb on demonstrations
At least 50 people were arrested wearing anti-riot gear on a main shopping street in the centre of Moscow.
The police surrounded a small group of protesters and detained them one-by-one, loading them onto a bus in Russia’s former imperial capital, Saint Petersburg.
The Interfax news agency quoted the Russian interior ministry as saying it had quashed attempts to “organise unauthorised gatherings”.
All the demonstrations were stopped and those who committed “violations” were arrested and led away by police pending an investigation and prosecution, it added.
The military mobilisation order comes a day after Russian-controlled regions in eastern and southern Ukraine announced plans to hold a referendum on becoming integral parts of Russia. Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said Russia will mobilise 300,000 reservists over the conflict in Ukraine. He also said Russia fighting “not so much Ukraine, as the West”.
Flights out of Russia were nearly fully booked this week, airline and travel agent data showed Wednesday, in an apparent exodus of people unwilling to join the conflict.