Police arrest hundreds of Russian protesters at ‘no to war’ rallies after Putin announces drafting 300,000 more reservists

Russians across the country took to the streets on Wednesday to protest President Vladimir Putin’s announcement calling for the “partial mobilization” of the country’s military reservists as setbacks in Ukraine mount.

In a rare televised speech on Wednesday, Putin said the mobilization that will see 300,000 reservists recruited would begin immediately, in a move that will likely escalate Moscow’s devastating war in Ukraine that looks set to continue through Ukraine’s harsh winter. The Russian leader also threatened to use nuclear weapons during his remarks and baselessly accused the West of provocation.

Hours after his speech, protests erupted across Russia, with videos of the various scenes showing people chanting “no to war” and other anti-Putin speeches. According to the independent monitoring group OVD-Infoat least 525 arrests were made in different cities as of around 8:30 p.m. local time in Moscow.

Some footage appears to show local police officers aggressively detaining people, while others watch and continue chanting. Associated Press reporters reported witnessing arrests within 15 minutes of a protest starting.

The Moscow prosecutor’s office warned earlier Wednesday that people joining anti-war protests could face up to 15 years in prison, CNN reported. Russia has passed laws that criminalize war dissent with stiff penalties.

The following images are photographs taken during a demonstration in Moscow on Wednesday evening.

Wednesday night’s demonstrations were reminiscent of similar demonstrations immediately after Putin ordered his full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24. After his televised speech that day, Russian citizens in dozens of cities began protesting, and dozens of them were arrested.

Meanwhile, Putin’s mobilization announcement on Wednesday was harshly criticized and condemned by a host of Ukrainian and Western officials, including President Joe Biden who criticized Putin for escalating Russia’s “outrageous” war in Ukraine. during a speech at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

The announcement of the mobilization comes a day after Moscow-backed authorities in four regions of southern and eastern Ukraine said they would hold referendums on joining Russia later this week, which have been decried by the West as illegitimate.

This week’s developments are taking shape as senior US defense and UK intelligence officials have warned Russia of difficulties with a personnel shortage in the face of weeks of punitive Ukrainian counter-offensives, which have freed up swaths of territory previously occupied by Russian troops in the northeastern and southern regions of Ukraine.

Sara H. Byrd