Russian protests fruitless – “the noose is being tightened”

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Facts: The Russian mobilization

On September 21, in an address to the nation, President Vladimir Putin ordered a “partial mobilization” in Russia.

According to Defense Minister Sergej Shojgu, there are 300,000 reservists to be called up. However, the mobilization is said not to be a one-off measure.

Those called in must be militarily trained and have “relevant” experience, according to the authorities. However, the details of the criteria have not been made public. The new decree also does not mention a “partial mobilization” but simply a “mobilization,” according to Russian independent media.

On September 21, the State Duma also quickly voted through a proposal that introduces the words “mobilization” and “desertion” into the Russian criminal code. If and when the Federation Council and the President give the go-ahead, the demands on the combatants are considerably tightened. Voluntarily surrendering or refusing to obey orders will then lead to long prison terms.

In up to 40 Russian cities, people took to the streets to protest President Vladimir Putin’s announcement of “partial mobilization”. The images cabled out are brutal: men and women, young and old, being dragged on tarmac and brusquely thrown into buses by police in heavy riot gear.

Despite the large number of arrests, the protests are fairly limited by Russian standards, says Martin Kragh, deputy director of the Center for Eastern European Studies and senior researcher at the Foreign Policy Institute (UI).

— But it’s also not very surprising, given the personal risks you face if you protest in Russia. It is in that context that one must see the fact that the open expressions of dissatisfaction are limited.

Arrested are called in

According to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, 300,000 reservists are to be called into the “military special operation” – a Russian euphemism for the war against Ukraine. Shortly thereafter, reports emerged of sold-out flights out of Russia and protesters in the streets.

But the protests probably don’t bother Putin, says Martin Kragh.

— There is even evidence that young men arrested yesterday received their summons directly at the police station.

“Just Rhetoric”

According to Kragh, there are signs that the mobilization has already begun on a large scale. Everything points to continued escalation, despite the fact that the information coming out of Russia is extremely limited.

– We see from place to place that many men of fighting age are already being called up. They are bussed to muster stations and then deployed, he says.

— This is not about a so-called partial mobilization – it’s just rhetoric. They will try to call in as many as possible.

Martin Kragh, deputy director of the Center for Eastern European Studies and senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute (UI), says that “all sorts of people from different kinds of backgrounds” are now being called into the war.

Martin Kragh is doubtful whether the protests will continue. When Russia, with the mass mobilization, enters a phase of increased militarism, no protests will be allowed, he says.

— The political repression is now being seriously tightened in Russia, step by step. The noose is tightened.

Opposition in exile

The question is also whether there is any actor in today’s Russia that has the capacity to gather larger crowds of protesters.

— There is currently nothing to indicate that any major protest organization is taking place. All the most prominent protest and opposition leaders are either imprisoned or driven into exile already, says Kragh.

For those Russians of military age who do not want to fight, there are not many choices, other than to try to leave the country. Protesting in the streets could lead to up to 15 years in prison, the prosecutor’s office warned yesterday – or to summons immediately upon arrest. Deserting from the army can also mean many years in prison.

— I note the same thing as I did on February 24 – Europe is facing its biggest security policy crisis since the Second World War. Nothing has improved, everything is getting worse, says Martin Kragh.