Protests rock Russia amid nuclear threats, mobilization order

Russians took to the streets – and into the skies – on Wednesday against Vladimir Putin’s mobilization order, which sent reservists to fight in Ukraine, as his threats of nuclear war mounted.

The order – which would throw 300,000 more soldiers into the increasingly desperate fight – sparked a wave of protests across Russia and a run for one-way tickets out of the country.

The mobilization came with chilling threats to defend Russian territory with nuclear weapons, as the Kremlin plans to designate a quarter of Ukraine as part of Russia.

“I would like to remind you that our country also has various means of destruction,” Putin said in a televised address on Wednesday morning. “If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will certainly use all means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people.”

With an icy look at the camera, the Russian strongman added, “This is not a bluff.”

Putin’s threat to use nuclear weapons to defend Russia’s “territorial integrity” comes as his puppet regimes in Ukraine prepare to declare occupied parts of that country Russian territory.

Ukraine map
1. Lyman: Lyman and its outskirts, a strategically important city in the northern part of Donetsk, has been the scene of intense fighting for over a week.

2. Lysyhansk Lysyhansk, located on a rise on the west bank of the Siversky Donets River, was the last base of the Ukrainian army in the Luhansk province before it was overrun in July. It is estimated that Ukrainian forces are within 10 miles of retaking the city.

3. Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant: Europe’s largest power plant is practically on the front lines of the conflict – and according to a UN report is constantly in danger of being caught in the crossfire.

4. Melitopol: Melitopol, the largest city in the Russian-held part of Zaporizhia Province, was a hotbed of Ukrainian guerrilla activity and attacks on the occupying authorities.

Four referendums are planned this week for the occupied provinces of Ukraine – Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhia and Kherson – to declare these provinces as Russia.

Such a vote would make the territories an “irreversible” addition to the country and allow Moscow to use “all means” to defend them, Dmitry Medvedev, chairman of the Kremlin’s Security Council, said this week.

“Trespassing into Russian territory is a crime that allows you to use all the powers of self-defense,” Medvedev added on the messaging app Telegram.

Voting, which is due to start on Friday, has already been declared illegitimate by Ukraine and its western allies.

More than 1,300 people were arrested in Russia on Wednesday for protesting Putin's order to send 300,000 more troops to Ukraine.
More than 1,300 people were arrested in Russia on Wednesday for protesting Putin’s order to send 300,000 more troops to Ukraine.
AFP via Getty Images
Riot police arrest demonstrators during a protest
Riot police detain protesters during a protest against mobilization in Moscow.
AP/Alexander Zemlianichenko

Russia’s use of so-called filtration camps to relocate Ukrainians within the occupied territories – and its alleged use of torture, imprisonment and extrajudicial executions against those it suspects of supporting or backing Kyiv – undermines the notion that any referendum held in occupied areas is held, this might reflect the will of residents.

President Biden responded to Putin’s comments on Wednesday while addressing the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

“This war is about wiping out Ukraine’s right to exist as a state, plain and simple, and Ukraine’s right to exist as a people,” Biden said. “Whoever you are, wherever you live, whatever you believe in, this…should make your blood run cold.”

He berated the Russian leader for “irresponsible nuclear threats,” adding that a “nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

Police officers arrest demonstrators in Saint Petersburg
The protests began in the rural regions where Putin’s army was stationed and found their way to the centers of political power.
AFP via Getty Images

Putin’s announcements triggered panic in Russia, and a wave of protests broke out across the country.

More than 1,300 Russians had been arrested by Wednesday evening for protesting the mobilization order, Russian police watchdog OVD-Info said. Anti-war protests are illegal under Russia’s draconian anti-demonstration laws, which ban the spread of so-called misinformation about the military.

The first protests took place in Siberia in Russia’s Far East, according to The Moscow Times. Most of the Russian forces deployed to Ukraine so far have been withdrawn from Russia’s far-flung rural regions and satellite states in an apparent attempt to protect Russia’s middle class from the costs of the conflict.

Young demonstrators in Russia
Young demonstrators clash with Russian police in St. Petersburg.
AFP via Getty Images
Police arrest a demonstrator during a protest
The mobilization was accompanied by chilling threats to defend Russian territory with nuclear weapons.

Mass mobilization of troops has been viewed as such a political minefield that Russian oligarch and Putin ally Yevgeny Prigozhin has tried to recruit prisoners to fight in Ukraine – with little success.

Prigozhin, who is widely believed to be the money behind the brutal Russian mercenaries the Wagner Group, was spotted in a leaked video last week trying to recruit inmates of a penal colony in the Mari El region of Russia.

“Our intelligence indicates that Wagner suffered heavy casualties in Ukraine, particularly and unsurprisingly among young and inexperienced fighters,” a senior US defense official told Reuters when asked about the video.


In the footage, a man can be heard telling inmates that clemency will be granted to those who survive a six-month tour in Ukraine. Deserters, the man said, would be shot on the spot.

Ordinary Russians stormed into airports on Wednesday, where prices for one-way tickets from Russia have skyrocketed.

Tickets from Moscow to Belgrade, Serbia, have sold out, as have flights to locations in Turkey, Georgia and Armenia, according to the Belgrade-based anti-war group Russians, Belarusians, Ukrainians and Serbs Unite Against the War.

“All Russians who wanted to go to war have already left,” the group tweeted. “Nobody else wants to go there!”

Additional reporting from Emily Crane and Wires Protests rock Russia amid nuclear threats, mobilization order


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