Vladimir Putin’s allies have criticised the way in which civilians are being conscripted to fight in Ukraine as villagers blocked off a motorway to stop men being taken to the front lines.
On the fifth day of the mobilisation drive, demonstrators clashed with police across the country.
Russian social media channels have been flooded with reports of recruiters handing draft notices to men with no military background, or forcing elderly and sick veterans back into service.
Authorities have tried to suppress news of protests with riot police. Rights groups said on Sunday that 2,000 people had been arrested across the country since Wednesday.
The speakers of Russia’s upper and lower houses of parliament on Sunday both acknowledged public disquiet, but blamed the backlash on lower-level officials for mismanagement rather than the mobilisation order itself.
“Such excesses are absolutely unacceptable. And, I consider it absolutely right that they are triggering a sharp reaction in society,” said Valentina Matvienko, the speaker of the Federation Council, Russia’s upper house.
In an apparent attempt to deflect blame from the Kremlin, she said that governors of Russia’s 85 federal regions held “full responsibility” for implementing the order, and that they must “ensure the implementation of partial mobilisation is carried out in full and absolute compliance with the outlined criteria. Without a single mistake.”
Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the State Duma, said “complaints are being received” and that “if a mistake is made, it is necessary to correct it”.
Valeriy Fadeev, the Russian government’s human rights ombudsman, on Saturday wrote to Sergei Shoigu, the defence minister, expressing concern over multiple violations, including the drafting of 70 fathers of large families and nurses without military skills.
Meanwhile, Margarita Simonyan, the head of the state-owned Russia Today media group and one of Mr Putin’s most reliable propagandists, posted a series of reports of violations on her own Telegram channel.
They included the case of a 63-year old retired lieutenant colonel with diabetes who was called back to service and a doctor with no previous military experience who was told he would have to operate a grenade launcher.
The interventions by Ms Simonyan and others reflect acknowledgment within the elite that forced conscription will prove massively unpopular.
A major highway in the North Caucasus republic of Dagestan was blocked by locals refusing to allow their men to be mobilised. Gunshots could be heard, which witnesses said were fired in the air by police officers trying to disperse the crowd.
In Makhachkala, the largest city in Dagestan, mostly female crowds were filmed chanting “no war!” as they tried to block police cars in the street and chased away a lone officer.
In the East Siberian city of Yakutsk, a crowd made up mostly of women surrounded a group of policemen on the central square and chanted “let our children be free” and “give us back our grandfathers”.
Putin announced “partial mobilisation” in a televised address on Wednesday morning, saying the move was necessary because Russia was under attack by the West.
He explicitly promised during the speech that only those with prior military experience would be drafted. Sergei Shoigu, the defence minister, said the army was seeking to recruit just 300,000 men.
But the decree published after his speech made no mention of the word partial and independent Russian media outlets have reported a censored clause which allows the ministry of defence to draft up to one million men. The Kremlin has denied those reports.
The Russian government will also move to ban men of military age from leaving the country next week, Meduza, an independent Russian news outlet, reported, citing two sources close to the presidential administration. Airline tickets have sold out and miles-long tailbacks have appeared at land borders since Wednesday as men attempt to flee.
There have been widespread reports of indiscipline and heavy drinking amongst those who have been drafted. One video posted by a mobilised soldier in the far east showed drunken men staggering along an airbase runway. One of them went to sleep in the grass.
Police in the Belgorod region said they were looking for a draftee who escaped from a training base by stealing a truck. He was reported to have taken with him a Kalashnikov assault rifle and 120 rounds of ammunition.
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