Security forces detained more than 1,300 people in Russia on Wednesday at protests denying mobilizationa rights group said, hours after President Vladimir Putin ordered Russia’s first military draft since World War II.
The independent protest monitoring group OVD-Info said that according to information it had gathered from 38 Russian cities, more than 1,311 people were occupied by late afternoon.
He said those figures included at least 502 in Moscow and 524 in St Petersburg, Russia’s second most populous city. Unpermitted rallies are illegal under Russia’s anti-protest laws.
Russian interior ministry official Irina Volk, in a statement cited by Russian news agencies, said officials had cut short attempts to stage small protests.
“In some regions, attempts were made to stage unauthorized actions that brought together a very small number of participants,” Volk said.
“These were all stopped. And those who violated laws were detained and taken to police stations for questioning to establish their responsibility.”
One-way flights from Russia were rising in price and selling out quickly on Wednesday after Putin ordered the immediate call-up of 300,000 reservists.
The opposition movement Vesna called protests, saying: “Thousands of Russian men, our fathers, brothers and husbands, will be thrown into the meat grinder of war. What are they dying for? Why will mothers and children cry?”
The prosecutor’s office in Moscow warned that organizing or taking part in protests could lead to up to 15 years in prison. Authorities have issued similar warnings ahead of other protests. Wednesday was the first anti-war protests across the country since the fighting began at the end of February.
AFP journalists in central Moscow said at least 50 people were detained by police wearing riot gear on a main shopping street.
In St. Petersburg, AFP reporters saw police surrounding a small group of protesters and detaining them one by one, loading them onto a bus.
Protesters were chanting “No mobilization!”
“Everyone is afraid. I’m for peace and I don’t want to have to shoot. But it is very dangerous to come out now, otherwise there would be many more people,” said protester Vasily Fedorov, a student wearing a peace symbol on his chest.
“I came out to the rally planning to take part, but it looks like they’ve already caught everyone. This regime has condemned itself and is destroying its youth,” said Alexei, a 60-year-old resident who declined to give his last name.
“Why are you serving Putin, a man who has been in power for 20 years!” a young protester shouted at one policeman.
“I came to say that I am against war and mobilization,” Oksana Sidorenko, a student, told AFP. “Why are they deciding my future for me? I’m scared for myself, for my brother,” she said.
Alina Skvortsova, 20, said she hoped Russians would soon understand the nature of the Kremlin’s attacks in the neighborhood Ukraine. “As soon as they really understand, they will come out on the street, despite the fear,” she said.
In Ekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth largest city, police bussed some of the 40 protesters detained at anti-war rallies. One woman in a wheelchair shouted, referring to the Russian president: “Goddamn bald-headed ‘job nut’. He’s going to drop a bomb on us, and we’re all still protecting him. I have said enough.”
The Interfax news agency quoted the Russian interior ministry as saying that attempts to “organize unauthorized meetings” had been futile.
All demonstrations were halted and those who committed “violations” were arrested and taken into police custody pending investigation and prosecution, he said.
By Reuters, Associated Press and Agence France-Presse