Although Russia invaded Ukraine in February, not all Russians support the conflict. And, back in March, Russia enacted two laws to pipe down any dissent over the war. These laws criminalize independent war reporting and anti-war protests. With Putin’s recent order to mobilize as many as 300,000 reservists to Ukraine, these laws are being tested amid simmering unrest in the country.
On Wednesday, Putin announced the order, and nationwide demonstrations immediately erupted, with protestors chanting “No mobilization!” According to an independent human rights group, more than 1,336 people from about 38 cities have already been detained by police. That includes hundreds of protestors from the capital, Moscow, and the country’s second-most populated city, St. Petersburg. According to AFP journalists in Moscow, the police are wearing riot gear to detain protesters one by one.
Russia says that officers are stopping attempts at “small protests,” and prosecutors have warned that participating in protests can lead to up to 15 years in prison. But, it seems like not all Russians are on board with this new expansion of the conflict, as one-way flights from the country have been selling out at record-high prices, and Finland’s border service reported a 50% surge in car traffic overnight. Google data also showed a spike in searches from the region like “How to leave Russia” or even “How to break an arm.” Russia announced on Thursday that reports of fighting-age men fleeing the country have been “exaggerated.”
“In a number of regions, there were attempts to stage unauthorized actions which brought together an extremely small number of participants. These were all stopped. And those persons who violated laws were detained and taken to police stations for investigation and establish their responsibility,” Russian interior ministry official Irina Volk said in a statement quoted by Russian news outlets.
“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?” said the Vesna opposition group, calling for protests.
“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,” protester Vasily Fedorov said.
“The war was OK for them when they saw it on TV, sitting on a sofa, but it is no longer OK when your government and your Shoigu calls you to join the army and offers to take part in the war with your own physical body,” said Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte.