Moscow police arrested anti-mobilisation protesters. [Source: BBC News]
Russian police are reported to have arrested hundreds of protesters rallying against the Kremlin’s decision to call up thousands of extra troops to fight in Ukraine.
Russian human rights group OVD-Info put the total at more than 1,000. The largest numbers arrested were in St Petersburg and Moscow.
Dozens were held in Irkutsk and other Siberian cities, and Yekaterinburg.
Flights out of Russia sold out fast after Vladimir Putin’s announcement.
Russia’s president ordered a partial mobilisation, meaning some 300,000 military reservists – but not conscripts – will be drafted to bolster Russia’s forces who have suffered recent battlefield reverses in Ukraine.
The move came a day after occupied areas of Ukraine announced snap referendums on joining Russia.
And in remarks condemned by Ukraine and its allies, Mr Putin stressed that he would use “all available means” to protect Russian territory – implying this could involve nuclear weapons.
The Moscow prosecutor’s office on Wednesday warned that calls on the internet to join unauthorised street protests or participation in them, could incur up to 15 years in jail. They could be prosecuted under laws against discrediting the armed forces, spreading “fake news” about Russia’s military operation in Ukraine, or encouraging minors to protest.
Russia’s tough penalties for spreading “disinformation” about the Ukraine war and police harassment of anti-Putin activists have made public anti-war protests rare.
But the anti-war opposition group Vesna called for widespread protests, and on Telegram, it reported many arrests across Russia. A video clip from Yekaterinburg showed police violently bundling protesters into a bus.
Vesna called its action “no to mobilisation” – a play on words because “mobile” in Russian means grave.
Pavel Chikov, a lawyer for the Russian human rights group Agora, said Agora had received 6,000 inquiries to its hotline since Tuesday morning, from Russians wanting information about soldiers’ rights.
Meanwhile, flights to popular destinations such as Istanbul in Turkey and Yerevan in Armenia were snapped up, and prices for remaining seats skyrocketed.
The price for flights from Moscow to Istanbul or Dubai reached as high as 9,200 euros ($9,119) for a one-way economy class fare following Mr Putin’s announcement, the Associated Press reported.