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Putin's Call-Up Fuels Anger, Protests  09/27 06:05

   

   TALLINN, Estonia (AP) -- Long lines of cars on roads snaking to Russia's 
border crossings with Georgia, Kazakhstan and Mongolia, and similar queues at 
airports.

   Angry demonstrations -- not just in Moscow and St. Petersburg -- but in the 
remote far north province of Yakutia and in the southern region of Dagestan, 
with women chasing a police officer and shouting, "No to war!"

   A gunman who opened fire in an enlistment office in a Siberian city and 
gravely wounded the military commandant, saying, "We will all go home now."

   Five days after President Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilization to 
call up hundreds of thousands of reservists to fight in Ukraine, the move has 
triggered outraged protests, a fearful exodus and acts of violence across the 
vast country.

   "Panic. All the people I know are in panic," said David, a Russian who gave 
only his first name out of fear of reprisals, in an interview with The 
Associated Press at a border crossing with Georgia. "We are running from the 
regime that kills people."

   While the Kremlin had wanted to promote its orchestrated referendums in 
occupied parts of Ukraine as a joyful event, with those regions expected to 
join Russia in a move similar to the annexation of Crimea in 2014, it instead 
is dealing with instability and chaos at home.

   State-run rallies were held in Moscow and other cities celebrating the 
referendums even before the the conclusion of several days of balloting that 
has been denounced as pre-ordained, phony and illegitimate by Kyiv and the West.

   In his address on Wednesday announcing the mobilization, Putin said the 
Kremlin would "support" the regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and 
Kherson in their push to be incorporated into Russia.

   But the mood in Russia has been anything but festive.

   Fears are running high that Moscow might close the borders to men of 
fighting age after the referendums in Ukraine end, prompting long lines of cars 
at Russia's frontiers. Telegram chats dedicated to some of these crossings 
swelled with thousands of new users.

   The lines apparently persisted Monday. The online service Yandex Maps showed 
a 18-kilometer traffic jam on a road in Russia's region of North Ossetia that 
leads up to the border with Georgia, and the regional branch of the Federal 
Security Service, or FSB, deployed an armored vehicle to the crossing.

   Officials told Russia's RBC news site that the action came "just in case the 
reservists want to break through the (border) checkpoint and leave the country 
without completing any border formalities," promising not to restrict any exits.

   "Call-up notices are being served to everyone. Nobody knows who will receive 
one tomorrow and therefore we decided with friends for the time being to rest 
in a beautiful country," said Roman Isif, a Russian who crossed into Larsi, 
Georgia, in an interview with AP.

   Long queues and crowds were reported Sunday in at least two of four Moscow 
airports. Tickets to destinations still available to Russians after the 
European Union halted all direct flights -- such as Turkey, Armenia, Serbia and 
Dubai -- have been sold out for days, despite exorbitant prices.

   Russian media -- including state-run outlets -- reported Monday that border 
guards have started turning men away at the border, citing mobilization law. It 
wasn't immediately clear how widespread the practice was.

   Although state television painted a rosy picture of the mobilization drive, 
with Russia 1 TV on Sunday showing crowds of eager men lining up to enlist "in 
almost every region," the reality was different.

   Enlistment offices and other administrative buildings have been set on fire 
since the start of the call-up. Although such incidents, usually involving 
Molotov cocktails, have been common during the 7-month-old invasion, they have 
grown in number and frequency after Putin's speech.

   Russian independent news outlets counted at least 17 such incidents in 
recent days, on top of 37 before the mobilization was announced.

   A man walked into the enlistment office in the Siberian city of Ust-Ilimsk 
and opened fire, shooting the military commandant at close range.

   Russian media reported the man, identified as Ruslan Zinin, 25, was upset 
that his best friend who didn't have any combat experience was called up. 
Authorities have said such experience would be the main criteria for the 
mobilization.

   Zinin, who was arrested, reportedly said, "No one will go fighting," and "We 
will all go home now." His victim was hospitalized in intensive care in an 
"extremely grave" condition, the reports said.

   Also on Monday, a man at a bus station in Ryazan, a city about 200 
kilometers southeast of Moscow, reportedly doused himself with a flammable 
liquid and set himself on fire, shouting he didn't want to take part in 
Russia's "special military operation" in Ukraine. He reportedly sustained minor 
injuries and was detained by police.

   As troubling as these incidents are, it is the spread of protests to 
far-flung strongholds of Putin's base of support that could be more concerning 
for the Kremlin, with women confronting authorities about "taking our sons." 
Although the mobilization was said to total about 300,000 men, some media 
reports claim the authorities plan to muster more than 1 million, which Moscow 
denied.

   Even though initial demonstrations against the mobilization were brutally 
suppressed by police, with hundreds detained shortly after it was announced, 
more have broken out in various regions. Over the weekend, women rallied 
against the call-up in the remote province of Yakutia in Russia's far north.

   In Mahachkala, the capital of the predominantly Muslim province of Dagestan, 
a crowd of women in headscarves gathered Sunday, chanting "No to war." Some of 
them chased a police officer away from the protest, while others stood in front 
of a police car, preventing it from moving and demanding the release of 
detained protesters inside.

   Protests in Dagestan continued Monday, with demonstrators clashing with 
police. Outrage also spilled into the streets of another North Caucasus region, 
Kabardino-Balkaria. Video showed a crowd of women surrounding a man in a suit, 
identified by the media as a local official, with one screaming: "Do you know 
where you're sending him?" -- an apparent reference to someone close to her 
being mobilized.

   Dagestan, as well as the Siberian region of Buryatia, are among several 
regions where there are complaints that a disproportionate number of ethnic 
minorities have been deployed to fight and have died in Ukraine.

   "For our state, we are not its citizens, but cannon fodder in this war. Just 
a resource," said Pavel, a 40-year-old resident of Buryatia who fled to 
Mongolia last week to avoid getting called up. He spoke to AP on condition that 
his last name not be used, fearing retribution.

   "Siberia and the Far East are being actively sold -- timber, minerals, land 
leased for 50 years. And it turns out that people living here are also 
processed as a resource," he added.

   Putin is "risking a lot by announcing mobilization, he's losing support, 
he's creating a pre-revolutionary situation -- protests, arson incidents at 
enlistment offices," political analyst Abbas Gallyamov told AP.

   Given the atmosphere of instability and Russia's recent battlefield 
setbacks, the referendums in Ukraine are unlikely to have any influence on 
public opinion, he said.

   "No one needs these referendums -- not the Russian public, not even the 
patriots anymore," Gallyamov added. aid.

   Andrei Kolesnikov, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International 
Peace, pointed out that polls indicate about half the Russian people 
unconditionally support the war, with about a third whose backing comes with 
caveats.

   The latter constitutes "a reservoir of doubt and discontent," Kolesnikov 
told AP. "It is already clear that the mobilization is not partial, and if this 
becomes more and more obvious, then the mood may begin to change. Putin is 
taking a big risk."

 
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