The Kremlin has sought to calm anxiety in Russian society about President Vladimir Putin’s decision to mobilise the army’s reserves by denying reports it has decided to close the border or introduce martial law.
Panic over Putin’s mobilisation order — which has affected a much broader part of the male population than the president said was eligible for the draft — has continued to fuel protests and prompted people to flee across the few remaining open borders.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday that “no decisions have been taken” on martial law or border closures, according to state newswire RIA Novosti.
Images of crowded airports and long queues of cars at Russia’s land borders have undermined the Kremlin’s portrayal of the call-up as a widely accepted measure.
The FSB, Russia’s main security service, said it sent an armoured personnel carrier to the border with Georgia, where the longest line to leave Russia has formed, to stop Russian reservists from leaving the country without going through passport control, according to news outlet RBC.
Lawyers and activists have reported that border guards in some regions are barring men from leaving on the basis that they are eligible for mobilisation.
Peskov admitted that some regions were calling up people who did not meet Russia’s requirements for draft eligibility, but insisted that “instances of deviation from the required criteria are being fixed”.
Protests and attacks on draft offices have surged in Russia since Putin announced a “partial” mobilisation of up to 300,000 people last week to bolster the invasion of Ukraine.
Popular anger has focused on widespread reports that officials are issuing draft notices to broad sectors of the population, even though the defence ministry said it would only mobilise people with military experience.
Police detained a man who opened fire at a military recruitment office in Siberia on Monday, severely wounding an official, the latest sign of discontent at Putin’s decision to mobilise.
Igor Kobzev, governor of the Irkutsk region, said the head of the recruitment office, Alexander Eliseyev, was in hospital in an “extremely serious condition” and that doctors were “fighting for his life”.
In a video posted on social media, the shooter identified himself as 25-year-old Ruslan Zinin, a resident of the town of Ust-Ilimsk. Marina Zinina, his mother, told online news outlet Astra that Zinin was upset because his best friend had received a draft notice the day before despite not being eligible under the officially announced criteria.
In Ryazan, central Russia, a man set himself on fire outside the city’s main bus station after shouting that he did not want to fight in Ukraine, local media reported.
Senator Sergei Tsekov, a representative to Russia’s upper house of parliament from the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014, said borders should be closed to all Russian citizens of military age, from 18 to 55, the state-run Ria news agency reported.
“Everyone who is of military age should be banned from travelling abroad in the current situation,” Ria news cited Tsekov as saying. Travel should be permitted only to those who had medical reasons for leaving the country and for those deemed unfit for military service, he was cited as saying.
But Evgeny Popov, another pro-Kremlin MP, told Ria that “we shouldn’t raise anxiety in an already anxious society” and said he hoped the mobilisation would soon be over.
Source: Financial Times