MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin’s order to mobilize more troops to bolster his struggling military campaign in Ukraine has been rippling across Russia, as the military swiftly drafts new recruits and signs of discontent appear to spread.
Putin announced the decision Wednesday, framing it as a “partial mobilization” that he insisted affects only a small percentage of Russians with a background in military service.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu ordered an immediate call-up of 300,000 additional troops — even as multiple news reports suggested the real number could be three times as many.
The Kremlin has tasked regional governors with overseeing the draft and stiffened penalties for refusal of service or desertion to 10 years in prison.
Meanwhile, the decree’s impact is increasingly clear. Dozens of videos have emerged on social media showing families and friends seeing off young recruits to fight. These were scenes few Russians could have imagined even last week. (NPR has not independently verified the images and footage.)
In Yakutia, in Russia’s far north, a band played the popular World War II-era song “Katyusha” and onlookers applauded as a recruit was presented with cake for a birthday that coincided with his deployment.
In Lipetsk, 300 miles south of Moscow, an Orthodox priest blessed young conscripts in civilian clothes as mothers wailed. “Mom, I’ll come back!” yelled one recruit as an officer ordered the group to march.
In Dagestan, in Russia’s south, videos showed an argument outside a recruiting station.
“My son has been fighting there since February!” says a women who compares the current conflict to the Soviet Union’s war with Nazi Germany in World War II.
“That was a war … but this is just politics!” a man retorts.
Despite government assurances only those with military service background will be drafted, multiple reports are emerging of draft papers being sent to people with no prior military experience.
Amid uncertainty over the scope of the draft, news reports and social media posts showed long lines of cars backed up on Russia’s border crossings with Finland and Georgia, to the west, and Kazakhstan and Mongolia to the south.
Tickets for flights out of Russia to countries with visa-free travel — such as Armenia and Turkey — are either sold out or have soared in price.
In Moscow, a channel on the social media app Telegram claimed to track the movements of recruitment officers throughout the city — even the metro — in real time.
“At Baumanskaya station, officers are standing near the turnstile stopping people,” says one post.
At Park Pobedy station, a group of national guardsmen are right near the escalator. Careful friends,” says another.
Avtozak Live, a volunteer human rights monitoring group, reported as many as nine arson attacks had been carried out on military recruitment centers or government buildings across Russia.
Rights advocates say police detained more than 1,300 people in protests that erupted in dozens of Russian cities following Putin’s address — with crowds yelling “No to war!” and “Putin to the trenches!”
Many now face possible legal troubles — after authorities warned protesters risked violating new laws that criminalize “denigrating” Russia’s armed forces with lengthy prison terms.
Several protesters of conscription age claimed they were presented with draft papers while in police custody — a move the Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, defended as legal in a news briefing.
Anti-war activists have called for additional protests against mobilization over the weekend.