LONDON, Sept 24 (Reuters) – The heavily pro-Kremlin editor of Russian news channel RT expressed anger on Saturday that enlistment officers were sending appeal documents to the wrong men, while frustration with military mobilization grew.
Wednesday’s announcement of Russia’s first public mobilization since World War II to shore up its faltering war in Ukraine sparked a border rush, the arrest of more than 1,000 protesters and widespread unease Population.
It is also drawing criticism from the Kremlin’s own official supporters, something almost unheard of in Russia since the invasion began.
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“It has been announced that soldiers can be recruited up to the age of 35. Summons go to 40-year-olds,” RT editor Margarita Simonyan said on her Telegram channel.
“They exasperate people, as if on purpose, as if out of spite. As if they had been sent from Kyiv.”
In another rare sign of turmoil, the Defense Ministry said Deputy Logistics Minister General Dmitry Bulgakov had been replaced “for transfer to another role” by Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev, a longtime army officer.
Mizintsev, under UK, EU and Australian sanctions, has been branded by the EU as the ‘butcher of Mariupol’ for his role in orchestrating a siege of the Ukrainian port in early the war that killed thousands of civilians.
Russia appears set to formally annex part of Ukrainian territory next week, according to major Russian news agencies. This follows so-called referendums in four occupied regions of Ukraine which began on Friday. Kyiv and the West denounced the votes as a sham and said the results in favor of annexation were predetermined.
MORE THAN 740 ARRESTS
For the mobilization effort, officials said 300,000 troops were needed, with priority given to people with recent military experience and vital skills. The Kremlin denies reports from two foreign-based Russian media that the real target is more than one million.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy – who has repeatedly urged Russians not to fight – said pro-Moscow authorities knew they were sending people to their deaths.
“Fleeing this criminal mobilization is better than being mutilated and then having to answer in court for having participated in a war of aggression,” he said in Russian on Saturday in a video address.
Russia officially counts millions of former conscripts as reserves – most of the male population of fighting age – and Wednesday’s decree announcing “partial mobilization” gave no criteria for who would be called up.
Reports have emerged of men with no military experience or over conscription age receiving appeal papers, adding to the outrage that has reignited – and banned – anti-war protests.
More than 1,300 protesters were arrested in 38 cities on Wednesday and on Saturday evening more than 740 were arrested in more than 30 cities from St. Petersburg to Siberia, according to independent monitoring group OVD-Info.
Reuters footage from St Petersburg showed police wearing helmets and riot gear pinning protesters to the ground and kicking one before transporting them to pickup trucks.
Earlier, the head of the Kremlin Human Rights Council, Valery Fadeyev, announced that he had written to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu asking him to “urgently resolve” the issues.
His Telegram post criticized the way the exemptions were applied and listed instances of improper enlistment, including nurses and midwives with no military experience.
“Some (recruiters) hand in the appeal papers at 2 a.m. as if they think we’re all draft dodgers,” he said.
On Friday, the Department of Defense listed some sectors in which employers could designate personnel for exemptions.
There has been particular outcry among ethnic minorities in remote and impoverished regions of Siberia, where Russia’s professional armed forces have long recruited disproportionately.
Since Wednesday, people have been queuing for hours to enter Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Finland or Georgia, fearing Russia will close its borders, although the Kremlin says reports of an exodus are exaggerated .
Asked by reporters at the United Nations on Saturday why so many Russians were leaving, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stressed the right to freedom of movement.
The governor of Buryatia, a region that borders Mongolia and is home to an ethnic Mongol minority, acknowledged that some had received papers wrongly and said those without military experience or with medical exemptions would be exempt .
On Saturday, Tsakhia Elbegdorj, president of Mongolia until 2017 and now head of the Mongolian World Federation, promised those fleeing conscription, including three Russian Mongolian groups, a warm welcome, and bluntly called on Putin to end the war.
“The Buryat Mongols, Tuva Mongols and Kalmyk Mongols were… used as cannon fodder,” he said in a video, wearing a yellow and blue Ukrainian ribbon.
“Today you are fleeing brutality, cruelty and probably death. Tomorrow you will begin to liberate your country from dictatorship.”
The rushed mobilization and organization of votes in the occupied territories came shortly after a Ukrainian blitzkrieg in the Kharkiv region this month – Moscow’s most brutal war setback.
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Reuters reporting; Editing by Peter Graff, Frances Kerry, David Ljunggren and Daniel Wallis
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