A Russian draft officer has been shot by a man angry at his friend’s conscription and another man has set himself on fire in a protest as opposition to Vladimir Putin’s announcement of a partial mobilisation for the war in Ukraine grows.
Protests were also expected to continue for a third day in Russia’s Dagestan region, where officers have fired automatic weapons in the air to disperse angry crowds. Meanwhile, thousands of cars have lined up at the Russian borders carrying young men seeking to flee the country in order to escape the draft.
There is a sense that tensions are rising across Russia, as angry showdowns at local draft centres play out in videos published to social media and rumours circulate about an impending closure of the borders or even martial law.
This is “only the fifth day” of conscription, wrote Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to the Ukrainian president. “Before the coffins begin to return.”
The Kremlin has sought to calm Russians, saying that no decisions have been made to shut the borders or impose martial law. But the backlash has already begun.
A draft officer was shot in Ust-Ilimsk, a town of about 85,000 people in the Irkutsk region in Siberia. Video showed him being shot at close range by another man dressed in camouflage clothing as other potential draftees fled the room.
The official was carried from the building and placed on to a stretcher. He appeared not to be moving. As he was placed into an ambulance, one woman said: “One, two, three, and he’s dead.”
The Irkutsk regional governor, Igor Kobzev, wrote on the Telegram messaging app that the head of the draft office was in a critical condition in hospital, where doctors were “fighting for his life”. Kobzev said the detained gunman would “absolutely be punished”.
“I am ashamed that this is happening at a time when, on the contrary, we should be united,” the governor wrote. “We must fight not against each other, but against real threats.”
According to a witness, the man shot the draft officer after he had given a “clumsy” pep talk for the men to go and fight in Ukraine. “Nobody is going to go anywhere,” the man said moments before opening fire, the People of Baikal news outlet quoted the witness as saying.
Another witness claimed he said: “Nobody is going to war. Now we’ll all go home.”
In Ryazan, a man set his clothing on fire while yelling that he did not want to participate in Russia’s war in Ukraine, a local outlet reported, citing witnesses. It also published a video of the man covered in a medical blanket being led away by police officers.
Protests are planned for Monday afternoon in major cities in Dagestan, an minority ethnic region in Russia’s northern Caucasus from where a disproportionate number of young men have been sent to fight and die in Ukraine.
Putin’s announcement of a partial mobilisation has resulted in hundreds of thousands of Russian men receiving their call-up papers.
Video from several small towns this weekend showed police officers being confronted by the angry relatives of draftees. Half-a-dozen draft centres have been torched in arson attacks in the last week, and police made hundreds of arrests across the country in order to disperse local protests sparked by the announcement.
The Kremlin admitted on Monday that mistakes had been made during the mobilisation of reservists. “There are cases when the [mobilisation] decree was violated … governors are actively working to rectify the situation,” the Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters. “Instances of non-compliance [with the decree] are decreasing. We hope this will speed up and that all errors will be corrected.”
In Kyiv, the general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces claimed some Russian conscripts from the mass mobilisation were being sent directly to the frontlines without training.
Men recently mobilised by pro-Russian occupation officials in Ukraine were also being readied for the frontline, including newly drafted personnel in Crimea as well as conscripts in Luhansk region who have received draft summonses in recent days.
Britain’s Ministry of Defence said many of those conscripted were likely to get little meaningful training and faced the risk of “high rates of attrition” when deployed.
“The lack of military trainers, and the haste with which Russia has started the mobilisation, suggests that many of the drafted [Russian] troops will deploy to the front line with minimal relevant preparation,” the MoD said.
The Institute for the Study of War, a US-based thinktank, was also dubious about the effectiveness of the mobilisation, noting in its most recent update that the Kremlin was “unlikely to overcome fundamental structural challenges”.
It was also reported that Russia had closed the border between the Rostov region and occupied areas of Ukraine and had ordered local people to appear at military enlistment offices within three days.