Some Russians flee country to escape military conscription as FM defends war at UNGA


Cars queue at Finland’s southernmost Vaalimaa border crossing, about a three-hour drive from Saint Petersburg, in Vaalimaa, Finland, September 22, 2022, to enter Finland from Russia. PHOTO: REUTERS/Essi Lehto

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Cars queue at Finland’s southernmost Vaalimaa border crossing, about a three-hour drive from Saint Petersburg, in Vaalimaa, Finland, September 22, 2022, to enter Finland from Russia. PHOTO: REUTERS/Essi Lehto

Some draft-age Russians rushed to the borders on Thursday to escape their country’s biggest conscription campaign since World War II, as world powers surrounded Moscow at the United Nations, accusing it of escalating the conflict in Ukraine.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reacted defiantly, defending Moscow’s record and accusing Kyiv and its Western allies of threatening his country, before walking out at the end of his speech to the Security Council.

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The diplomatic confrontations came a day after President Vladimir Putin launched a new mobilization campaign in the seven-month-old war that has already killed thousands, displaced millions, pulverized cities and damaged the global economy. Continue reading

He also effectively announced plans to annex four Ukrainian provinces – said Moscow will help with referendums due to start on Friday on joining Russia – and threatened to use nuclear weapons.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council that talk of a nuclear conflict was “completely unacceptable” and said any move to annex territories would violate international law.

“The very international order that we are gathered here to uphold is being shredded before our eyes,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the gathering. “We cannot let President Putin get away with it.”

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In his speech, Lavrov accused Kyiv of “brazenly trampling on” the rights of Russians and Russian-speakers in Ukraine.

“I can assure you we will never accept that,” he said. “Everything I have said today simply confirms that the decision to conduct the special military operation was inevitable.”

It was at least the 20th Security Council meeting on Ukraine this year. The body was unable to take any meaningful action because Russia is a permanent veto member alongside the United States, France, Britain and China.

PROTESTS, PANIC

Polls in Russia suggest Moscow’s domestic intervention in Ukraine is widespread – but the mass recruitment could be a risky move for Putin after past Kremlin promises it wouldn’t happen and a string of failures on the battlefield in Ukraine.

“Any normal person is (concerned),” said a man, who identified himself only as Sergey, as he disembarked in Belgrade after a flight from Moscow. “It’s okay to be afraid of war.”

More than 1,300 people were arrested during anti-war protests in 38 Russian cities on Wednesday, a monitoring group said. Some of those detained were ordered to report to recruiting offices on Thursday, the first full day of conscription, independent news outlets said. More rallies are planned for the weekend.

Russia said reports of a mass exodus were exaggerated.

Russian news agencies, meanwhile, reported on Thursday that 10,000 people volunteered to fight even before their draft papers arrived, citing the Russian General Staff.

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Putin’s defense minister said the mobilization is expected to recruit about 300,000 men.

Airline ticket prices from Moscow soared to over $5,000 for one-way flights to the nearest foreign locations, with most selling out in the coming days. Traffic also increased at the border crossings with Finland and Georgia.

A Russian man who arrived at Istanbul Airport said he left partly because of the Kremlin’s decision. “That can cause a lot of problems for a lot of Russians,” says Alex, grabbing his suitcase from a baggage carousel.

A truck driver crossing the Russian-Kazakh border near the Kazakh city of Oral said he saw unusually heavy traffic coming from the Russian side. A tourism industry source said there was desperation as people searched for plane tickets from Russia.

National carrier Aeroflot said it would issue a refund to people unable to fly as planned because they received a call.

MISSILE STRIKES

Locally, explosions rocked southeastern Ukraine on the eve of planned pro-Moscow separatist referenda there — voices that Kyiv and its allies have called a sham.

Russia’s military fired nine rockets at the city of Zaporizhia, hitting a hotel and a power plant, regional governor Oleksandr Starukh said. At least one person died with others under the rubble, he added. Zaporizhia is about 50 km (30 miles) away from the nuclear power plant of the same name.

In the Russian-held southern city of Melitopol, also in the Zaporizhia region, an explosion hit a crowded market. The city’s exiled mayor said it killed three soldiers and was staged by the occupying forces to frame Ukraine’s terrorism charges. A member of the Russian-installed local administration accused Ukraine’s special services of wreaking havoc on the eve of the vote.

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In further violence, separatists installed by Russia said at least six civilians were killed and six others wounded in a rocket attack on a market in central Donetsk.

Bodies lay in the street next to a wrecked bus, surrounded by debris and bent metal. A firefighter hugged a sobbing woman whose daughter had been killed in the vehicle.

A Reuters reporter saw five dead, including a teenager, and several wounded in the separatist-held town.

Putin says Russia is conducting a “special military operation” to demilitarize Ukraine, rid it of dangerous nationalists and defend Moscow from the transatlantic alliance NATO.

Kyiv and the West describe Russia’s actions as an unprovoked, imperialist move to retake a country that shook off Russian dominance with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Moscow does not fully control any of the four regions it appears to intend to annex, with only about 60% of Donetsk and 66% of Zaporizhia regions held by its forces.

Ukraine expanded its grip on reclaimed northeastern territory earlier this week as troops continued to invade areas abandoned by Russia, paving the way for a possible attack on occupying forces in the Donbass industrial heartland.





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