The stridently pro-Kremlin editor of Russia’s state-run RT news channel voiced outrage on Saturday that recruitment officers were handing call-up papers to the wrong men, as Russians grew increasingly concerned about a military mobilization.
The announcement on Wednesday of Russia’s first public mobilization since World War II to shore up its faltering invasion of Ukraine has prompted a rush for the border by eligible men, the detention of over 1,000 demonstrators, and widespread disquiet.
Now, it is also attracting criticism of the authorities from among the Kremlin’s own official supporters, something almost unheard of in Russia since the invasion began seven months ago.
“It has been announced that privates can be recruited up to the age of 35. Summonses are going to 40-year-olds,” the RT editor-in-chief, Margarita Simonyan, railed on her Telegram channel.
“They’re infuriating people, as if on purpose, as if out of spite. As if they’d been sent by Kyiv.”
In another rare public sign of turmoil at the top, the Russian defence ministry said on Saturday the deputy minister in charge of logistics, four-star General Dmitry Bulgakov, had been replaced “for transfer to another role”. It gave no further details.
Russia officially counts millions of former conscripts as reservists – potentially nearly the entire male population of fighting age – and Wednesday’s decree announcing the “partial mobilisation” gave no criteria for who would be called up.
Officials have said 300,000 troops are needed, with priority given to people with recent military experience and vital skills. The Kremlin has denied reports by two Russian news outlets based abroad – Novaya Gazeta Europe and Meduza – that the real target is more than 1 million.
Reports have surfaced across Russia of men with no military experience or past draft age suddenly receiving call-up papers.
On Saturday the head of the Kremlin’s Human Rights Council, Valery Fadeyev, publicly announced that he had written to Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu with a request to “urgently resolve” problems of the mobilisation.
His 400-word Telegram posting criticised the way exemptions were applied and listed several cases of inappropriate enlistment including nurses and midwives with no military experience.
“Some (recruiters) hand over the call-up papers at 2 a.m., as if they think we’re all draft dodgers,” he said.
On Friday, two days after enlistment began, the defence ministry listed some sectors in which employers could nominate staff for exemptions.
There has been a particular outcry among ethnic minorities in remote, economically deprived areas in Siberia, where Russia’s professional armed forces have long recruited disproportionately.
Since Wednesday, people have been prepared to queue for hours to cross into Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Finland or Georgia, scared that Russia might close its borders, although the Kremlin has said reports of an exodus are exaggerated.
The governor of Russia’s Buryatia region, which is located on the Mongolian border and home to an ethnic Mongol minority, acknowledged on Friday that some had received papers in error and said those who had not served in the army or who had medical exemptions would not be called up.
On Saturday, Tsakhia Elbegdorj, president of Mongolia until 2017 and now head of the World Mongol Federation, promised those fleeing the draft a warm welcome, and bluntly called on Putin to end the war.
“The Buryat Mongols, Tuva Mongols, and Kalmyk Mongols have … been used as nothing more than cannon fodder,” he said in a video message, wearing a ribbon in Ukrainian yellow-and-blue, and referring to three Mongol ethnic groups in Russia.
“Today you are fleeing brutality, cruelty, and likely death. Tomorrow you will start freeing your country from dictatorship.”
The mobilisation, and the hasty organisation of so-called referendums on joining Russia in occupied Ukrainian territories this weekend, came hard on the heels of a lightning Ukrainian offensive in the Kharkiv region – Moscow’s sharpest reverse of the seven-month-old war.
The anti-war group Vesna called on social media for new demonstrations across Russia on Saturday evening, after more than 1,300 protesters were arrested in 38 towns on Wednesday, according to the independent monitoring group OVD-Info.
The interior ministry of the Russian region of North Ossetia advised people not to try to leave the country for Georgia at the Verkhny Lars frontier post, where it said 2,300 cars were waiting to cross.