RRussian men and their families flooded to the border over the weekend as speculation grew that the Kremlin could bar men eligible for mobilization from leaving the country.
Witnesses reported hours-long queues at Moscow’s main airport and land crossings to Kazakhstan and Georgia, as reports circulated that those subject to the call-up could be barred from leaving as early as this week.
The government sought to reassure people that the “partial” mobilization rules that President Vladimir Putin announced on September 21 would be enforced after stories of sick, old or otherwise exempt people being drafted went viral on social media media.
Putin late Saturday ordered the suspension of some students at state vocational schools and universities after assurances from the Defense Ministry failed to reassure the public. Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the lower house of parliament, on Sunday promised an “individual” approach to each complaint received, echoing the assurances of some regional governors.
But the Federal Security Service, or FSB, began stopping the men from leaving the country on orders from military commissariats, Russian lawyer Pavel Chikov, who advises on conscription cases, said on his Telegram channel on Sunday. He posted pictures of two notes handed out at different checkpoints on the border with Kazakhstan.
News website Meduza and the media group of exiled tycoon Mykhailo Khodorkovsky over the weekend quoted unidentified people as saying that men of legal age would be barred from leaving the country after organized annexation referendums in occupied Ukrainian territory are due to conclude on Tuesday. Similar reports of imminent border closures circulated in the days after Putin ordered his troops to invade Ukraine in February, although no such restrictions were imposed at the time.
Small, scattered protests against Putin’s mobilization erupted across the country. Police detained about 828 people in 35 cities at protests as of Sunday evening, according to the monitoring group OVD-Info.
In Dagestan, police fired into the air to disperse a rally, according to a video posted by Kommersant newspaper on its Telegram channel.
Crossings at Finland’s eastern land border doubled in the week to Friday to 7,700, according to data released by the Finnish border guard. By Saturday, Russian arrivals had reached 8,572, with departures also rising to 4,199.
In Uralsk, Kazakhstan, the CinemaPark movie theater offered Russians traveling across the border a place to stay after the influx left many arrivals looking for housing and drove up costs, according to Kazakh24.info news site.
The line at Georgia’s land border is about 10 kilometers long and takes about 24 hours, according to Daniil, a 35-year-old software programmer who rented a van in Vladikavkaz with friends, paying 10,000 rubles ($170). ) each.
“I don’t believe this is a partial mobilization,” he said in the central square in the capital, Tbilisi. Although he never served, he said: “I have this military card that says I’m a soldier, but I don’t meet the age requirement. But yes, I know we are all reserves and one day that moment will come, that’s why I chose to come here. Their tactic is simply to play down the panic and say it’s a partial mobilization.
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