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‘Thrown into the meat grinder’: Russians react to mobilisation | Russia-Ukraine war News

On Wednesday evening, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a new phase of the war in Ukraine: a partial mobilisation of the population.

Although hardliners had been calling for such a move since the very beginning, the government has tried to present the conflict as a contained “special military operation” rather than something that will affect citizens directly. That may be about to change.

In an interview with the TV channel Russia 24, Minister of Defence Sergei Shoigu said that Russia had 25 million able-bodied men at its disposal but will only call on 300,000 with military experience. They will be given additional training before being sent to the front, and will not include students or former conscripts.

Shoigu also claimed that 5,397 Russian soldiers had died in the conflict.

On Wednesday – without any public debate or discussion – the Duma adopted a law imposing penalties for looting, refusing to fight, surrender and desertion.

The new rules are applicable during mobilisation, wartime and martial law – so far, the government has been reluctant to refer to the invasion of Ukraine as a war, using the term “special military operation” instead. According to the new decree, reservists will be treated the same as regular, contract soldiers should they fail to report for duty.

“They are losing the war, and they want to do something not to lose it,” Oleg Ignatov, a Moscow-based analyst for Crisis Group, told Al Jazeera.

“I think the main problem is they have a shortage of personnel on the ground – they don’t have enough soldiers to attack Ukraine, or even protect the occupied areas. They want to close the gap with the Ukrainians and that’s why they declared the mobilisation.”

 

Because of recent setbacks, the Russian military has had to look for manpower elsewhere.

Footage recently leaked to social media that showed oligarch and alleged head of the mercenary outfit Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, at a prison colony, telling convicts if they were ready to serve a six-month tour of duty that they would be released.

“It’s either private military companies and prisoners [fighting in Ukraine], or your children,” Prigozhin later said in a statement.

Earlier, journalists in Kyrgyzstan uncovered a social media campaign hiring “security guards” to work in Ukraine, in return for 240,000 rubles ($4,383) a month and a simplified path to Russian citizenship. It was soon apparent this was another recruitment drive from Wagner.

Kyrgyzstan and its neighbours Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are a source of migrant workers to Russia. On Wednesday, the Kyrgyz embassy in Moscow warned its compatriots that getting involved in a conflict on behalf of a foreign power may be a crime back home.

Although tens of thousands of Syrian and other foreign fighters were supposedly enlisted to fight on Moscow’s behalf earlier this year, a significant foreign legion does not yet appear to have materialised.

While the government has promised that only those with military experience would be called up, in practice nothing legally prevents those without it from also being enlisted. In response, the Spring youth democratic movement called for renewed demonstrations against mobilisation in the centres of Moscow, St Petersburg and all Russian cities.

“Vladimir Putin has just announced a partial mobilisation in Russia. This means that thousands of Russian men – our fathers, brothers and husbands – will be thrown into the meat grinder of war,” Spring wrote on their Instagram page.

“Now war will truly come to every home and every family. The authorities used to say that only ‘professionals’ were fighting and that they would win. It turned out that they were not winning – and prisoners began to be recruited to the front. The war is no longer ‘out there’ – it has come to our country, our homes, for our relatives.

The deputies and officials who daily yelled about the need for mobilisation will remain in their warm chairs, alive and well. We believe that they should be mobilised and sent to Ukraine – let them die for their sick fantasies, and not send ordinary guys to their deaths.”

As if anticipating this, pro-Kremlin commentator Ilya Remeslo wrote on his Telegram that “reliable sources” informed him that those taking part in “illegal rallies” would be the first to be mobilised.

“They will check the documents immediately on the spot, identify them, detain them and send them to the internal affairs agencies,” he claimed. “Then, together with military registration and recruitment, the draftee’s category will be determined. Those who do not immediately fit the first category [of 300,000 experienced soldiers] will be registered for subsequent conscription.”

“So, we are waiting for you, dear hamsters,” he added. “It’s time to serve.”

On Wednesday evening, demonstrations took place in cities across Russia, although they appeared to be smaller than the ones in February.

Ivan Zhdanov, a close ally of imprisoned opposition leader Alexey Navalny, said the Navalny team was ready to support any and all anti-war actions: “If you are ready to do bigger things, including setting fire to military recruitment offices, we are also ready to provide some assistance.”

But he said major protests were unlikely as Russian society is so atomised.

“There is no solidarity in Russian society, and no unity. There is no civil society, and Russia hasn’t had free elections since the 2000s,” he said.

“I think they will try to prevent any protests, and whoever opposes the mobilisation will be severely punished. But I think people will try to sabotage this decision. Males will want to avoid the mobilisation, to hide from the people trying to draft them or try to leave the country.”

According to Google Trends, in the hours before Putin’s announcement the question “how to leave Russia” spiked on search engines, as did “how to break an arm”. On Wednesday, all flights to Istanbul and nearly all flights to Yerevan were sold out.

But fleeing overseas is not an option for everyone. Those soldiers who have, up to now, been avoiding deployment to Ukraine by using the loophole that it is not a declared war – meaning they are not obliged to take part – now find that door shut.

NN, a platoon commander who agreed to speak to Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity, said he wrote a letter of resignation but they the army would not accept it.

“And if I don’t go join the special operation now, they’ll put me in jail because of the mobilisation. In general, the process of dismissal from our army is very complicated – you can’t quit just like that,” he said. ”

The order [to deploy] has already come and I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to go; the interests of the state do not coincide with the interests of the public. Many others [in the army] share my opinion.”

But others are more resigned to the prospect of being deployed.

“This affects me directly because of my age, I served and I’ve the right training, so I match all the criteria except maybe the fact that the navy isn’t particularly useful [in Ukraine],” said 35-year-old Valentin from St Petersburg, who served in the navy from 2009-2010.

“Some of the other guys have different opinions.  Someone wants to leave [the country], but most of us will go if we’re told. I’m not afraid. If I get the notice, I’ll go, but I’m in no hurry, either.”

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US judge dismisses Mexico lawsuit against gun manufacturers

MEXICO CITY — A U.S. federal judge on Friday dismissed a lawsuit brought by the Mexican government against U.S. gun manufacturers arguing their commercial practices has led to bloodshed in Mexico.

Judge F. Dennis Saylor in Boston ruled Mexico’s claims did not overcome the broad protection provided to gun manufacturers by the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act passed in 2005.

The law shields gun manufacturers from damages “resulting from the criminal or unlawful misuse” of a firearm.

Mexico’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said it would appeal the decision.

Mexico was seeking at least $10 billion in compensation, but legal experts had viewed the lawsuit as a long shot.

The Mexican government argued that the companies know their practices contribute to the trafficking of guns into Mexico and facilitate it. Mexico wants compensation for the havoc the guns have wrought on its people.

Among those sued were some of the biggest names in guns, including: Smith & Wesson Brands Inc., Barrett Firearms Manufacturing Inc., Beretta U.S.A. Corp., Colt’s Manufacturing Company LLC and Glock Inc.

Another defendant was Interstate Arms, a Boston-area wholesaler that sells guns from all but one of the named manufacturers to dealers around the U.S.

The Mexican government estimates 70% of the weapons trafficked into Mexico come from the U.S., according to the Foreign Affairs Ministry. It said that in 2019 alone, at least 17,000 homicides in Mexico were linked to trafficked weapons.

Mexico argued the U.S. protection act did not apply when an injury occurred outside the United States.

Saylor did not agree.

“Mexico is seeking to hold defendants liable for practices that occurred within the United States and only resulted in harm in Mexico,” he wrote. “This case thus represents a valid domestic application of the PLCAA, and the presumption against extraterritoriality does not apply.”

The sale of firearms is severely restricted in Mexico and controlled by the Defense Department. But thousands of guns are smuggled into Mexico by the country’s powerful drug cartels.

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Officials: North Korea fires suspected ballistic missiles

TOKYO — North Korea has fired suspected ballistic missiles, the Japanese Defense Ministry said Saturday.

Further details are still being analyzed, ministry officials said.

Japanese media reported that the missiles are believed to have landed in the Sea of Japan.

Saturday’s firing is the latest of North Korea’s escalating missile launches and a third this week following those fired Friday in the wake of U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit in South Korea.

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Army officers appear on Burkina Faso TV, declare new coup

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso — More than a dozen soldiers seized control of Burkina Faso’s state television late Friday, declaring that the country’s coup leader-turned-president, Lt. Col. Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba, had been overthrown after only nine months in power.

A statement read by a junta spokesman said Capt. Ibrahim Traore is the new military leader of Burkina Faso, a volatile West African country that is battling a mounting Islamic insurgency.

Burkina Faso’s new military leaders said the country’s borders had been closed and a curfew would be in effect from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. The transitional government and national assembly were ordered dissolved.

Damiba and his allies overthrew the democratically elected president, coming to power with promises of make the country more secure. However, violence has continued unabated and frustration with his leadership has grown in recent months.

“Faced by the continually worsening security situation, we the officers and junior officers of the national armed forces were motivated to take action with the desire to protect the security and integrity of our country,” said the statement read by the junta spokesman, Capt. Kiswendsida Farouk Azaria Sorgho.

The soldiers promised the international community they would respect their commitments and urged Burkinabes “to go about their business in peace.”

“A meeting will be convened to adopt a new transitional constitution charter and to select a new Burkina Faso president be it civilian or military,” Sorgho added.

Damiba had just returned from addressing the U.N. General Assembly in New York as Burkina Faso’s head of state. Tensions, though, had been mounting for months. In his speech, Damiba defended his January coup as “an issue of survival for our nation,” even if it was ”perhaps reprehensible” to the international community.

Constantin Gouvy, Burkina Faso researcher at Clingendael, said Friday night’s events “follow escalating tensions within the ruling MPSR junta and the wider army about strategic and operational decisions to tackle spiraling insecurity.”

“Members of the MPSR increasingly felt Damiba was isolating himself and casting aside those who helped him seize power,” Gouvy told The Associated Press.

Gunfire had erupted in the capital, Ouagadougou, early Friday and hours passed without any public appearance by Damiba. Late in the afternoon, his spokesman posted a statement on the presidency’s Facebook page saying that “negotiations are underway to bring back calm and serenity.”

Friday’s developments felt all too familiar in West Africa, where a coup in Mali in August 2020 set off a series of military power grabs in the region. Mali also saw a second coup nine months after the August 2020 overthrow of its president, when the junta’s leader sidelined his civilian transition counterparts and put himself alone in charge.

On the streets of Ouagadougou, some people already were showing support Friday for the change in leadership even before the putschists took to the state airwaves.

Francois Beogo, a political activist from the Movement for the Refounding of Burkina Faso, said Damiba “has showed his limits.”

“People were expecting a real change,” he said of the January coup d’etat.

Some demonstrators voiced support for Russian involvement in order to stem the violence, and shouted slogans against France, Burkina Faso’s former colonizer. In neighboring Mali, the junta invited Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group to help secure the country, though their deployment has drawn international criticism.

Many in Burkina Faso initially supported the military takeover last January, frustrated with the previous government’s inability to stem Islamic extremist violence that has killed thousands and displaced at least 2 million.

Yet the violence has failed to wane in the months since Damiba took over. Earlier this month, he also took on the position of defense minister after dismissing a brigadier general from the post.

“It’s hard for the Burkinabe junta to claim that it has delivered on its promise of improving the security situation, which was its pretext for the January coup,” said Eric Humphery-Smith, senior Africa analyst at the risk intelligence company Verisk Maplecroft.

Earlier this week, at least 11 soldiers were killed and 50 civilians went missing after a supply convoy was attacked by gunmen in Gaskinde commune in Soum province in the Sahel. That attack was “a low point” for Damiba’s government and “likely played a role in inspiring what we’ve seen so far today,” added Humphery-Smith.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Friday that nearly one-fifth of Burkina Faso’s population “urgently needs humanitarian aid.”

“Burkina Faso needs peace, it needs stability, and it needs unity in order to fight terrorist groups and criminal networks operating in parts of the country,” Dujarric said.

Chrysogone Zougmore, president of the Burkina Faso Movement for Human Rights, called Friday’s developments “very regrettable,” saying the instability would not help in the fight against the Islamic extremist violence.

“How can we hope to unite people and the army if the latter is characterized by such serious divisions?” Zougmore said. “It is time for these reactionary and political military factions to stop leading Burkina Faso adrift.”

———

Mednick reported from Barcelona. Associated Press writers Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal, and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed.

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