Moscow began its mandatory military call-up on Thursday to try to thwart the war effort in Ukraine, with officials saying thousands had volunteered, while Russians were forced to fight to avoid being forced to fight. had fled the country.
Amateur footage posted on social media is purported to show hundreds of Russian citizens across the country responding to military summons since President Vladimir Putin ordered the mobilization of reservists.
The call-up comes as Moscow-held regions of Ukraine are set to vote in the coming days whether to partake of Russia in a referendum that has been called an illegal land grab by Kyiv and its allies.
Moscow’s move came after Ukrainian forces occupied much of the northeastern Kharkiv region, seen as a possible turning point in the seven-month war that had come to a standstill.
The Russian military said Thursday that at least 10,000 men had volunteered to fight in the 24 hours since the order, but men rushed to leave Russia before they could even join.
“I don’t want to go to war,” a man named Dmitry, who had gone to Armenia with just a small bag, told AFP. “I do not want to die in this senseless war. It is a fraternal war.”
– Annex ‘Vote’ –
Military-aged men made up the majority of those arriving on the latest flight from Moscow at the Armenian airport, and many were hesitant to speak.
Yerevan has become a major escape destination for Russians since the war broke out on 24 February, sparking fierce international protests aimed at isolating Russia.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday demanded that Putin be held accountable as he faced Russia at a Security Council session in which the United Nations listed abuses in Ukraine.
“We can’t – we won’t – let President Putin get away with this,” Blinken told the Security Council in a special session during a meeting of leaders at the United Nations.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov – whom Blinken has refused to meet in person since the February invasion – rebuked the Western allegations.
“Today we are trying to force a completely different story about Russian aggression as the origin of this tragedy,” Lavrov told the Security Council.
The confrontation escalated at the diplomatic level as Kremlin-founded officials in Ukrainian territories controlled by Moscow’s forces on Thursday vowed to move forward with this week’s annexation polls.
Ukraine’s four Russian-occupied regions – Donetsk and Lugansk in the east and Kherson and Zaporizhzhya in the south – announced they would vote over five days starting Friday.
Kherson’s Moscow-installed chief Vladimir Saldo, who fell early in the Russian offensive, said the referendum would go ahead in his territory regardless of criticism.
“The date is fixed. We have the green light. Voting starts tomorrow and no one can stop it,” he told Russian state-run media.
“People are waiting and they are demanding that this vote be held soon,” he said.
Western leaders held in New York this week unanimously condemned the ballots.
Speaking at the United Nations, US President Joe Biden accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of “shamelessly” violating the United Nations Charter with a war aimed “to eliminate Ukraine’s right to exist as a state”. ” was.
– ‘Anyone would like to go’ –
The integration of the war-torn regions into Russia would represent a major escalation of the conflict, as Moscow could then try to assert that it was defending its territory from Ukrainian forces.
Following the announcement of votes by his proxy officials in Ukraine, Putin announced that Russia would convene some 300,000 reservists to bolster the war effort and cautioned that Moscow would use “all means” to defend its territory.
Former Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev said in a statement on social media that those tools included “strategic nuclear weapons.” He predicted that the polling areas would be “unified into Russia”.
For most observers, the outcome of the concurrent vote is already a foregone conclusion and was in a hurry as Ukrainian forces were making sweeping gains in a counter-attack to capture the East.
The referendum is reminiscent of a similar ballot in 2014 in which the Crimean peninsula in Ukraine was annexed by Russia. Western Capitals said the vote was fraud and hit Moscow with sanctions in response.
Election officials in the Donetsk region, which has been partially controlled by Moscow-backed separatists since 2014, said voting would be house-to-house for the first days. But this will be possible only on Tuesday, the last day at the polling stations.
Putin’s move to call reservists for Ukraine this week sparked small protests across Russia, resulting in the detention of more than 1,300 people.
Flights from Russia to neighboring countries, mainly former Soviet republics that allow visa-free entry to Russians, are almost completely booked and prices are skyrocketing, prompting an exodus of Russians wanting to avoid going to war. points to.
Looking lost and exhausted in the airport arrival hall in the Armenian capital, 44-year-old Sergei said he was called to flee Russia.
“The position of Russia would leave anyone wanting to leave,” he told AFP on condition of anonymity.
(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)