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More than 1,200 detained in Russian protests over Ukraine policy – The Irish Times

Protesters across Russia took to the streets to show their disapproval of the “partial mobilisation” policy announced by president Vladimir Putin on Wednesday that would press 300,000 into military service.

At least 1,252 people from 38 cities were detained, according to OVD-Info, a human rights watchdog that monitors police activity.

In Moscow, hundreds of protesters gathered on the Old Arbat, a well-known pedestrian street in the city centre. They screamed “Send Putin to the trenches!” and “Let our children live!” Footage showed riot police dragging people away.

In Tomsk, a woman holding a sign that said “Hug me if you are also scared” smiled serenely as she was dragged away from a small protest by three police officers. In Novosibirsk, a man with a ponytail was taken away after he told police officers, “I don’t want to die for Putin and for you.”

Protest is effectively criminalised in Russia, where before this week almost 16,500 people had been detained for anti-war activity, according to OVD-Info — including the simple act of an individual standing in a public place holding a blank piece of paper. Since March, it has been illegal to “disseminate false information” about the war and to “discredit the Russian army”.

Punishment

Russians came to protest despite a warning from the general prosecutor’s office issued Wednesday that unsanctioned protests could result in punishment of up to 15 years of prison for spreading false information about the military, which became a criminal offense in February.

Jailed opposition politician Alexei Navalny and the anti-war group Vesna, or Spring, had both called for protests on Wednesday.

Russians have grown so accustomed to the idea of being detained that one pet shelter that funds itself by selling apparel created T-shirts showing children playing outside a school bus that is actually an AvtoZak, the vehicle riot police use to take detainees to be booked at the police station.

Mr Putin has relied on a strategy of keeping life as normal as possible for Russians in order to maintain a passive support for the war. While thousands protested on February 24th, the day Russia invaded Ukraine, law enforcement agencies were able to stifle much public dissent.

Now, the prospect of reservists being called up brings the war ever closer to ordinary people’s homes.

Conscription fears

The draft announced by Mr Putin could rattle the Russian public because most Russian men of military age are legally considered reservists; a year of military service is a requirement for those aged 18 to 27. Although defence minister Sergei Shoigu has said that only those with prior military experience are eligible to be drafted, some ordinary Russians fear that there could be broader conscription on the horizon, potentially creating consequences for Putin at home.

“Mobilisation raises the stakes not only in war, and not only in international relations, it raises the stakes in domestic politics,” Ivan Kurilla, a professor of history and international relations at the European University in St. Petersburg, wrote on Facebook.

However, Greg Yudin, a professor of political philosophy at the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences currently at Princeton University, said while the “partial” mobilisation order did not set limits to the draft, it was still “not a breach of the famous ‘you don’t mess up with our business, we don’t mess up with yours’ contract either.”

A petition against “full and partial mobilisation” had gathered almost 300,000 signatures by Wednesday evening.

“I think people couldn’t pull themselves out of shock — they simply couldn’t believe that there would be a mobilization announced,” said Anastasia (36), one of the petition’s organisers, who lives in St Petersburg.

“Even yesterday we thought that it couldn’t happen,” she said, referring to the anticipation of Mr Putin’s announcement speech, which was initially expected Tuesday evening. “But it seems to me that today people are still in shock that it is happening. And they finally realised: ‘This concerns me, too.’”

On Wednesday afternoon, Mr Navalny published the results of a poll his organization commissioned asking respondents how they would react to mandatory mobilization. Almost half said they disagreed.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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