Hundreds of people were arrested in Russia for protesting a military mobilisation order aimed at beefing up the country’s troops in Ukraine.
Girls as young as 14 were among those arrested, local reports claim, as police used stun guns and batons to quell protesters criticising Wednesday’s announcement of Russia’s first public mobilisation since World War Two.
Russian police moved quickly to break up demonstrations held in several cities across Russia on Saturday, arresting over 744 people.
Images from St Petersburg showed police in helmets and riot gear pinning protesters to the ground and kicking one of them before carrying them into vans.
More than 1,300 protesters were arrested during a previous wave of protests on Wednesday, and many of them immediately received call-up summons.
The Russian leader and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the order applied to reservists who had recently served or had special skills, but almost every man is considered a reservist until age 65 and Putin’s decree kept the door open for a broader call-up.
The Russian Ministry said that the partial mobilisation initially aimed to add about 300,000 troops to beef up its outnumbered volunteer forces in Ukraine. The Ukrainian government stopped allowing most men ages 18-60 to leave the country immediately after Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion under a general mobilisation order intended to build a 1 million-strong military.
Many Russian men bought up scarce and exorbitantly priced airline tickets out of the country as rumours swirled about a pending border closure.
Thousands of others fled by car, creating lines of traffic hours or even days long at some borders. The massive exodus underlined the unpopularity of the war and fueled public outrage.
On Saturday, Tsakhia Elbegdorj, president of Mongolia until 2017 and now head of the World Mongol Federation, promised those fleeing the draft, especially three Russian Mongol groups, a warm welcome, and bluntly called on Putin to end the war.
“The Buryat Mongols, Tuva Mongols, and Kalmyk Mongols have ... been used as nothing more than cannon fodder,” he said in a video message, wearing a ribbon in Ukrainian yellow-and-blue.
“Today you are fleeing brutality, cruelty, and likely death. Tomorrow you will start freeing your country from dictatorship.”
Thousands of miles away from Moscow, in a town in Omsk, Siberia, an image appears to show some of those who have been drafted for the war in Ukraine fighting with local police.
It is alleged that people called on the police to “come and die with them in the trenches”.
It came as China announced its support for a peaceful resolution of the “crisis” in Ukraine, its foreign minister Wang Yi told the United Nations general assembly on Saturday.
Wang added the pressing priority was to facilitate talks for peace, Reuters reports.
In his address, Wang said the fundamental solution was to address the “legitimate security concerns of all parties”.
The Russian Defense Ministry on Saturday announced the dismissal of Gen. Dmitry Bulgakov from the post of deputy defence minister in charge of logistics.
It didn’t mention the cause for his ousting, but the move was widely seen as a punishment for the flaws in supporting operations in Ukraine.