Vladimir Putin has secretly approved a law that could send a further one million men to fight in Ukraine, according to information leaked from the Kremlin.
The target, revealed by a Kremlin source to a Russian newspaper, is more than triple the 300,000 number that had previously been given under Putin’s “partial mobilisation” plan.
The new figure is likely to exacerbate fears of conscription among ordinary Russians – a fear that has already sparked mass protests and queues to leave the country since the plan was announced on Wednesday.
It comes as some protesters detained at the anti-war rallies were threatened with deployment to the frontlines and reports that men with no military experience were being called up, despite the Kremlin’s assurances that wouldn’t happen. Stories emerged from one remote region of university students being pulled straight out of class.
According to Novaya Gazeta, an exiled independent newspaper, citing an anonymous Kremlin source, the redacted Section 7 of Putin’s decree states that up to one million men could be mobilised.
The unnamed Kremlin official said the number had been revised several times and that the Russian military insisted on it being classified.
When asked about the redacted figure, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed that it contains the mobilisation target but said the one million figure was “a lie”. He cited Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu’s statement on Wednesday that Moscow was only going to call up 300,000 people.
It comes as some of the protesters detained in Moscow at Wednesday’s anti-war rallies following Vladimir Putin’s declaration of a partial mobilisation have been told to show up at their local army draft offices as punishment.
Over 1,300 people were taken away by police at nationwide protests in over 30 cities on Wednesday when police beat up and brutally detained men and women who took to the streets after the Kremlin’s decree called for some men with military training to help shore up his invasion of Ukraine.
There were also reports that administration and conscription buildings were targeted by arsonists in several cities overnight.
At least 15 people in Moscow and one person in Voronezh were handed summons obliging them to visit the local draft office where they could formally be called up, the police monitoring group OVD Info said.
Kirill, a 24-year-old barista from Moscow, was among those served with summons at a police station at midnight shortly after he was detained.
“There was a woman upstairs who was filling in the forms, and they were hurrying me up: I didn’t know the law so I just signed it,” Kirill told The Telegraph.
“That was really intimidating.”
Kirill was supposed to show up at the recruitment office at 10 a.m. but he did not, hoping that the enlistment office would not track him down as the police only took his old address.
“I wanted to get out of the country for a while but I just don’t have the money,” he said.
I’m too scared now to get out of the house: I feel like they can catch me anywhere.”
Anti-war Russians already faced hefty fines and potentially time in jail for taking to the streets against the invasion but the reports suggested that authorities were now also going to threaten them with being deployed to the deadly battlefields of Ukraine.
“It was only to be expected that (authorities) started using mobilisation from day one to put pressure on the protesters,” Pavel Chikov, head of the Agora association of human rights lawyers, said.
Russians have been fleeing the country since the announcement.
Unusually long lines to leave Russia were reported overnight and Thursday morning at once sleepy border crossings – including those with Mongolia and Kazakhstan in the east and Georgia in the south – with hundreds of cars pictured stuck in a night-time massive traffic jam and the estimated wait to cross the border at about 20 hours.
In the Chelyabinsk region that borders Kazakhstan, dozens of men were seen standing near their cars in the vast steppe just after dawn.
At Moscow airports, border guards reportedly conducted spot checks on young men, quizzing them about their eligibility to be called up.
The mobilisation decree signed by President Putin on Wednesday left room for interpretation. Assurances by Russia’s top brass that they would only draft veterans with combat experience contradicted numerous reports from across the country that the mobilisation was much broader.
‘People are fleeing to Mongolia’
Images of tearful goodbyes between middle-aged men and their shocked wives on Thursday morning emerged from Russia’s remote Yakutia in eastern Siberia where women cried and hugged their men before they boarded buses for a training centre after they were called up earlier that day.
In Buryatia, an impoverished Russian region five time zones away that became a major source for soldiers in the first six months of the invasion, a local journalist voiced outrage about her husband, a 38-year-old father of five with no military background getting called up.
“Buryatia saw one of the most terrifying nights in its history,” local anti-war activist Alexandra Garmazhapova said on social media.
“People are fleeing to Mongolia.”
A local university student in Buryatia’s capital Ulan-Ude told the media outlet Village that police officers showed up at this university in the morning and were “taking students straight out of classes.”
Buryatia’s government confirmed reports that at least 11 schools in Ulan-Ude were shut down on Thursday to be used as mobilisation points, and school buses will now be used to ship conscripts.
Military commissioners seem to be sweeping Buryatia clear, even trying to enlist men who were long dead.
“Two women showed up at my brother’s address in the morning and said they wanted to hand him call-up papers,” Natalya Vasilyeva from Ulan-Ude told the Telegraph, adding that her late brother had an exemption from the army due to bad health.
Several of her colleagues and friends were served call-up orders too:
“Some got visits at 4, some at 6 a.m. They all went to the recruitment office.”
Meanwhile, top Russian officials and lawmakers are beginning to feel the heat of criticism as they seem unwilling to go to war themselves or send their family members to Ukraine.
Nikolai Peskov, a 32-year-old son of President Putin’s spokesman, rejected suggestions to sign up when a member of a Russian opposition group prank-called him on Wednesday.
“You need to understand that I shouldn’t be there if my name is Mr Peskov,” the spokesman’s son told the activist who posed as a military official requesting him to show up at the military commissioner’s office.
“I’m going to solve this issue on a different level.”
Asked if he was going to sign up for the army, Mr Peskov Jnr was heard saying: “Certainly not.”
The opposition activists released the full footage of the phone call but his father, Dmitry Peskov, insisted that the remarks were taken out of context and that he had “no doubts” in his son’s “choice.”