December 8, 2022

Protests erupted in several cities in Russia, including the capital, Moscow, after Vladimir Putin announced he was mobilizing troops for the war in Ukraine.

Demonstrators chant “No to war!” and “Send Putin to the trenches!” I took to the streets in the capital and there were reports of protests elsewhere, including in the Siberian cities of Ulan-Ude and Tomsk, as well as Khabarovsk near the Chinese border, according to the Russian group Avtozak, which monitors the protests.

In Novosibirsk, videos showed people chanting: “I don’t want to die for Putin or for you!”. There have also been reports of protests in Kaliningrad, the Russian region sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania

Although the demonstrations were few in number – which is not surprising given that the Russian government threatened 15 years in prison for anyone protesting “special operation” in Ukraine – the fact that they occurred at all was noteworthy.

By Wednesday evening, more than 700 people were reported to have been arrested. The News agency Watch at least ten people arrested within 15 minutes of the start of a protest on the streets of Moscow.

The opposition movement Vesna called for nationwide protests, although it was not clear how many would act, given Russia’s harsh laws against criticism of the military and the war.

“Thousands of Russian men – our fathers, our brothers, our husbands – will be thrown into a meat grinder in a war. What will they die for? What will mothers and children cry for?” said the group.

Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny criticized Putin’s move from his cell, warning it would lead to a “great tragedy”.

Navalny, who is serving more than 10 years in prison, said: “It is clear that the criminal war is getting worse and deeper, and Putin is trying to involve as many people as possible in this. He wants to smear hundreds of thousands of people with this blood.”

In an address to the nation, the Russian president ordered up to 300,000 reservists to prepare to serve in his country’s faltering campaign against its neighbor.

Putin also accused the West of contemplating the use of nuclear weapons against Russia and warned that Moscow would “use all means available to us” if threatened.

The protests came on top of thousands of people trying to flee the country after Putin ordered his recall earlier in the day.

Large numbers of Russians rushed to book one-way tickets out of the country while they still could. Flights filled up quickly and ticket prices skyrocketed, apparently driven by concerns that Russia’s borders may soon be closed.

Reports of panic among Russians soon flooded social networks. Anti-war groups said that limited air tickets from Russia reached sky-high prices due to high demand and soon became unavailable.

Some publications claimed that some people had already been turned back from Russia’s land border with Georgia and that the website of the Russian State Railways had collapsed because many people were looking for ways out of the country.

“I want to say, ‘Freedom to Ukraine,’” said an elderly Russian woman who fled the country, identifying herself as Yulia. “Someone please stop Putin.”

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