Senior Russian lawmakers express concern over Putin’s mobilization drive ‘excesses’

Amid increasing public anger about Russia’s mobilization drive, two of the country’s most senior lawmakers ordered regional officials to solve the “excesses” that have stoked protests and seen flocks of military-age men attempt to flee.

Valentina Matviyenko and Vyacheslav Volodin both took to the Telegram messaging app to address what they said were the many complaints from the public about the mistakes that were made when recruiting civilians into the military.

“Appeals are coming in,” Volodin, speaker of the Duma, Russia’s lower chamber of Parliament, said in a post Sunday. “Each case should be dealt with separately. If a mistake is made, it must be corrected,” he said.

“All levels of government must understand their responsibility,” he added.

Russian State Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin in St. Petersburg in April.Getty Images file

Last week’s order by President Vladimir Putin — the first mobilization of reservists in Russia since World War II — came after Ukraine’s successful counteroffensive broke through Russian lines outside Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second most populous city.

The country’s forces then drove farther into the contested Russian proxy-controlled Donbas region, forcing the Kremlin’s units to fall back quickly, losing soldiers and military hardware. 

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said shortly after Putin’s order that the country aimed to add about 300,000 troops, although the presidential decree keeps the door open for a broader call-up.

The order triggered protests across the country, and the independent OVD-Info protest monitoring group said Saturday that it was aware of detentions in 32 different cities, from St Petersburg to Siberia. It said hundreds of people had been detained by police across Russia for protesting against the mobilization and the war.

Within hours of the order being issued, flights sold out and there were long jam-ups at several of the country’s borders as people attempt to leave.

There have also been multiple reports that people with no military service have been issued with draft papers, despite Shoigu guaranteeing that only those with special military skills or combat experience would be called up.

Videos posted to social media have also shown arguments between military recruiters and reservists, as well as members of the public, prompting even ultra-loyal pro-Kremlin figures to publicly express concern.

Valentina Matvienko, Speaker of the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, at a press briefing in St. Petersburg on June 17, 2022.
Valentina Matvienko, the chairwoman of Russia’s upper house, in St. Petersburg in June.Maksim Konstantinov / SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images file

Volodin’s post came hours after Matviyenko, the chairwoman of Russia’s upper house, the Federation Council, said she was aware of reports of men who should be ineligible for the draft being called up.

“Such excesses are absolutely unacceptable. And, I consider it absolutely right that they are triggering a sharp reaction in society,” she said in a post on Telegram.

In a direct message to Russia’s regional governors — who she said had “full responsibility” for implementing the call-up, she wrote: “Ensure the implementation of partial mobilization is carried out in full and absolute compliance with the outlined criteria.”

Matviyenko added that the mobilization of reservists be carried out in compliance with the law and “without a single mistake.”

A Russian officer checks the temperature of recruits as they lineup to be registered at a military recruitment center in Volgograd, Russia, on Sept. 24, 2022.
A Russian officer checks the temperature of recruits as they lineup to be registered at a military recruitment center in Volgograd, Russia, on Saturday.AP

The editor in chief of Russia’s state-run RT news channel, Margarita Simonyan, also expressed frustration over how the mobilization was being carried out on Saturday.

“They’re infuriating people, as if on purpose, as if out of spite. As if they’d been sent by Kyiv,” Simonyan wrote on her Telegram channel, according to Reuters.

Meanwhile inside Ukraine, officials said people had been prohibited from leaving some four Russian-occupied eastern Ukrainian regions until the referendums on incorporating them into Russia were completed.

“Polling stations remain empty,” Yuriy Sobolevskyi, the deputy head of Kherson’s regional council, said in a post on his Telegram channel Saturday. He added that “electoral commissions accompanied by armed soldiers roam the region,” and were going to homes to force people to cast ballots.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov defended the referendums at the United Nations Saturday. He said that regions would be under Russia’s “full protection” if annexed by Moscow.

Ukraine and its allies have dismissed the referendums as a sham designed to justify an escalation of the war and a mobilization drive by Moscow after recent battlefield losses.

The territory controlled by Russian or Russian-backed forces in the four regions represents about 15% of Ukrainian territory.

Adding Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, Russia would have gained an area about the size of the U.S. state of Pennsylvania.

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