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Protesters scuffle with Russian police as draft inflames tensions

Sept. 25, 2022 Updated Sun., Sept. 25, 2022 at 9:12 p.m.

Police officers detain a woman in Moscow on Wednesday following calls to protest against the partial mobilization announced by Russian President Vladimir Putin.  (TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE)
Police officers detain a woman in Moscow on Wednesday following calls to protest against the partial mobilization announced by Russian President Vladimir Putin. (TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE)
By Washington Post

By Washington Post

Furious residents blocked a highway on Sunday in Russia, where scuffles with police and other protests broke out as residents bristled against the Kremlin’s draft to replenish its military that has struggled in Ukraine.

At least 2,200 people have been detained across Russia since midweek, when President Vladimir Putin announced the “partial mobilization” that would bring hundreds of thousands of people into active duty.

Kremlin-staged referendums to annex occupied areas of Ukraine are underway, and Russia’s foreign minister insisted that regions would be “under the full protection of the state” if they are added to his nation – despite widespread condemnation. Some residents called it a vote “under a gun barrel,” with the outcome predetermined by the Kremlin.

The impoverished Russian region of Dagestan, which has borne a disproportionate share of military casualties in Ukraine, emerged as a hot spot for protests on Sunday. Women in the regional capital, Makhachkala, struggled with police Sunday and tried to keep them from dragging male protesters to vans. At least 800 people across the country were detained by Russian authorities during protests of mobilizations this weekend, according to the human rights group OVD-Info. Since Wednesday, more than 2,200 had been detained.

Amid the protests, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed Russian citizens, in Russian, during his nightly address Saturday: “Russian commanders do not care about the lives of Russians – they just need to replenish the empty spaces left by the dead, wounded, those who fled or the Russian soldiers that were captured.”

Zelensky says Russian-backed troops will retaliate against people who don’t vote in the “sham” referendum. “Those people who don’t come to referendum, you know, Russians can turn off their electricity and won’t give them an opportunity to live a normal human life,” Zelensky said Sunday on CBS News’s “Face the Nation.” “They force people. They throw them in prisons.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, despite global criticism, said any new annexed Ukrainian territory would be under Russia’s “full protection” in a news conference at the United Nations. He also did not rule out using nuclear weapons to defend them. “All of the laws, doctrines, concepts and strategies of the Russian Federation apply to all of its territory,” he said Saturday.

Serbia’s foreign minister reportedly said his country would not accept the results of staged referendums in eastern Ukraine – a significant statement, coming from a government that has maintained stable relations with Moscow throughout the war and signed a cooperation agreement with Russia just two days ago. According to Serbian news outlets, Foreign Minister Nikola Selakovic said Sunday that the referendums violate international law and Serbia’s national interest.

Russian strikes targeting the city of Zaporizhzhia wounded at least three people, authorities there said. Moscow’s partial control of the Zaporizhzhia region is key because it provides a land bridge, linking Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, to Russia itself. Russia also accused Ukraine of attacks in areas where voting is underway, with state news outlets and the leader of the Kremlin-backed separatist Donetsk People’s Republic saying a pro-Russia former Ukrainian lawmaker was killed in a Ukrainian strike against a hotel in Kherson. The Washington Post could not independently verify the assertions.

Russian forces struck 35 settlements across Ukraine’s south and east in the past 24 hours, including Zaporizhzhia and Mykolaiv, the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said early Sunday. At least three people died and 19 were injured in strikes Saturday.

“Kamikaze” drones were used to strike the southern Ukrainian city of Odessa overnight into Sunday, Ukrainian officials said. The drones, which explode when colliding with a target, damaged government and residential buildings in the city center, but no one was hurt, according to Odessa’s mayor, Gennadiy Trukhanov. Odessa is a crucial port for grain shipments out of Ukraine.

Putin’s partial military mobilization could put further pressure on Russia’s national guard, Britain’s Defense Ministry said. The Guard, known in Russian as Rosgvardia, “is highly likely under particular strain” as the Kremlin has called on it to facilitate staged referendums in the east of Ukraine and to deal with protests inside Russia, the ministry said. “There is a realistic possibility that mobilisation will be used to reinforce Rosgvardia units with additional manpower,” it added.

Russian forces may be preparing to forcibly mobilize Ukrainian prisoners of war to fight for Moscow, state media reported, which ISW analysts said would constitute a violation of the Geneva Conventions.

Zelensky said he believes Putin is serious when he threatens to use nuclear power in Ukraine. “I don’t think he’s bluffing,” Zelensky said on “Face the Nation.” “I think the world is deterring it and containing this threat.” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told ABC News’s “This Week” that the United States has communicated directly to top Russian officials “that there will be catastrophic consequences for Russia if they use nuclear weapons in Ukraine.” The Post previously reported that the United States has been privately warning Russia for months that there will be grave consequences if Russia uses a nuclear weapon.

Traffic at the border between Russia and Finland – one of the last European Union member states with a land border open to Russians – was “high” on Saturday, according to Finnish border officials, amid reports of Russians fleeing the country to avoid being called up. Finland on Saturday announced it would restrict entry and visas for Russian citizens.

Britons who were released as part of a prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine said they were tortured while in captivity, in interviews with British media outlets. They said they were told Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich played a role in securing their release. The Post could not independently verify the claims.

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