Security forces detained more than 1,300 people in Russia on Wednesday at protests denouncing mobilization, a rights group said, hours after President Vladimir Putin ordered Russia’s first military draft since the second world war.
The independent OVD-Info protest monitoring group said that according to information it had collated from 38 Russian cities, more than 1,311 people had been held by late evening.
It said those figures included at least 502 in Moscow and 524 in St Petersburg, Russia’s second most populous city. Unsanctioned rallies are illegal under Russia’s anti-protest laws.
Russian interior ministry official Irina Volk, in a statement quoted by Russian news agencies, said officers had cut short attempts to stage what it called small protests.
“In a number of regions, there were attempts to stage unauthorized actions which brought together an extremely small number of participants,” Volk was quoted as saying.
“These were all stopped. And those persons who violated laws were detained and taken to police stations for investigation and establish their responsibility.”
One-way flights out of Russia were rocketing in price and selling out fast on Wednesday after Putin ordered the immediate call-up of 300,000 reservists.
The Vesna opposition movement called for protests, saying: “Thousands of Russian men, our fathers, brothers and husbands, will be thrown into the meat grinder of the war. What will they be dying for? What will mothers and children be crying for?”
The Moscow prosecutor’s office warned that organizing or participating in protests could lead to up to 15 years in prison. Authorities have issued similar warnings ahead of other protests. Wednesday’s were the first national anti-war protests since the fighting began in late February.
AFP journalists in the center of Moscow said at least 50 people were detained by police wearing anti-riot gear on a main shopping street.
In St Petersburg, AFP reporters saw police surround a small group of protesters and detain them one-by-one, loading them on to a bus.
Protesters were chanting “No mobilization!”
“Everyone is scared. I am for peace and I don’t want to have to shoot. But coming out now is very dangerous, otherwise there would be many more people,” said protester Vasily Fedorov, a student wearing a pacifist symbol on his chest.
“I came out to the rally planning to participate, but it looks like they’ve already arrested 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’s 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 added.
Alina Skvortsova, 20, said she hoped Russians would soon understand the nature of the Kremlin’s offensive in neighboring Ukraine. “As soon as they really understand, they will come out on to the street, despite the fear,” she said.
In Ekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth-largest city, police hauled on to buses some of the 40 protesters who were detained at an anti-war rally. One woman in a wheelchair shouted, referring to the Russian president: “Goddamn bald-headed ‘nut job’. He’s going to drop a bomb on us, and we’re all still protecting him. I’ve said enough.”
The Interfax news agency quoted the Russian interior ministry as saying it had quashed attempts to “organize unauthorized gatherings”.
All the demonstrations were stopped and those who committed “violations” were arrested and led away by police pending an investigation and prosecution, it added.
With Reuters, Associated Press and Agence France-Presse