Teenagers and journalists were among hundreds of people detained by Russian police when Vladimir Putin’s decision to recruit civilians for his war in Ukraine sparked the country’s first mass protests in months.
Some 1,386 people were arrested by Russian authorities as demonstrations erupted in dozens of cities across the country, according to independent monitoring group OVD-Info — while crowds in Moscow chanted, “Send Putin to the trenches.”
Among the detainees were nine journalists and 33 teenagers, at least one of whom was allegedly beaten on the head and ribs and thrown from a police van, according to the group.
It was unclear whether there will be more protests on Thursday.
Dissent erupted after Putin announced the partial mobilization of the country in an attempt to rescue his war effort in Ukraine, calling up as many as 300,000 reservists.
“We are talking about partial mobilization, that is, only those citizens who are currently on the reserve will be subject to recruitment and, above all, those who have served in the Armed Forces have a certain military expertise and relevant experience,” Putin said.
As protesters made their opposition visible on the streets of at least 39 Russian cities on Thursday, men of draft age began fleeing the country, with one-way plane tickets to visa-free destinations selling out or skyrocketing in price. .
Meanwhile, imprisoned Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny appeared confirm reports that his associates successfully summoned the son of Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, posing as military recruiters. Nikolai Peskov told them that he “did not feel like fighting” because he was “engaged in education”.
This came when the Kremlin-backed website RT, citing police sources, reported that Navalny had been the target of fresh extremism allegations in relation to his prison calls to his supporters to protest Putin’s war earlier this year.
The additional charges could result in an additional 15 years in prison, the website said.
Navalny again urged people to protest in response to Putin’s announcement on Wednesday, also publishing the results of a poll by his Anti-Corruption Foundation that found nearly half of respondents disagreed with the president’s dramatic decision.
“These results show why mobilization could be Putin’s last mistake,” Navalny said.
The monitoring group OVD-Info claimed that in many cities, protesters were beaten and denied access to their lawyers.
There were said to be at least 530 detainees in Moscow and St Petersburg, with one protester’s arm allegedly broken in two places in the Baltic Sea port city.
While the courageous display of agitation marks the first large-scale Russian protests in months, notable opposition to Putin’s war has been steady since February’s invasion of Ukraine, with OVD-Info tallying some 16,500 arrests in the past seven months.
The demonstrations came as Putin announced that four referendums would be held in occupied Ukrainian regions upon becoming part of Russia, with the looming votes – widely expected as a “farce” – paving the way for his annexation.
And in an apparent threat to the West, the Russian president has warned against “nuclear blackmail”, threatening that he was “not bluffing” in using every means at his disposal to protect Russian territory.
Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev – now deputy chairman of Moscow’s security council – said on Thursday that Russia could use tactical nuclear weapons to defend Ukrainian territories seized in the newly announced referendums.
Voting will take place and “there is no going back,” Medvedev said, adding: “The Western establishment and all citizens of NATO countries in general need to understand that Russia has chosen its own path.”