‘High alert’: Moscow tries to draft fleeing Russian men at the borders

Key points

  • After Vladimir Putin announced a mobilisation last week, Russians have lined the highways to Georgia to exit the country.
  • Moscow has set up draft offices at the borders of Georgia and Finland to conscript some of those fleeing.
  • European leaders vowed a “robust” response after underwater pipelines in the Baltic Sea burst, in a likely act of sabotage.
  • Moscow is poised to claim a swath of Ukraine, releasing vote tallies showing support in four occupied provinces of eastern Ukraine. 
  • Kyiv and the West have denounced the referendums as illegal shams held at gunpoint.

Larsi, Georgia: Long lines of Russians trying to escape being called up to fight in Ukraine continued to clog highways out of the country on Wednesday, and Moscow reportedly set up draft offices at borders to intercept some of them.

North Ossetia, a Russian region that borders Georgia, declared a state of “high alert” and said that food, water, warming stations and other aid should be brought in for those who have spent days in queues. Volunteers on the Georgian side of the border also have brought water, blankets and other assistance.

Russian people and cars queuing for crossing the Upper Lars checkpoint on the Russian-Georgia border.Credit:AP

North Ossetia restricted many passenger cars from entering its territory, and set up a draft office at the Verkhy Lars border crossing, Russian news agencies said. Some media outlets released photos at the crossing showing a black van with “military enlistment office” written on it.

Another such draft checkpoint was set up in Russia along the Finnish border, according to the independent Russian news outlet Meduza.

Tens of thousands of Russian men have fled in the week since President Vladimir Putin announced a mobilisation to bolster struggling Russian forces in Ukraine.

Although Putin said the call-up was “partial,” aimed at calling up about 300,000 men with past military service, many Russians fear it will be much broader and more arbitrary than that. There are numerous reports of men with no military training and of all ages receiving draft notices.

Draft-age Russian men at Verkhni Lars customs checkpoint between Georgia and Russia in Zemo Larsi, Georgia. Credit:Getty

Aleksandr Kamisentsev, who left his home in Saratov for Georgia, described the scene on the Russian side of the border.

“It’s all very scary — tears, screams, a huge number of people. There is a feeling that the government does not know how to organise it. It seems that they want to close the border, but at the same time they are afraid that protests may follow, and they let people leave,” he told the AP.

He said he decided at the last moment to leave “because I am not going to kill my Ukrainian brothers or go to prison”.

Protesters carrying Georgian and Ukrainian flags and signs like “Russia Kills” greeted Russians at the border Wednesday. Giga Lemonjava of the political party Droa, which organised the protest, said the evacuees threaten Georgia’s security and economy.

One protester, Helen Khoshtaria, tweeted: “We organised a protest at the border today so that the incoming Russians know how we feel about their `Russian world.’”

Russians have been crossing by car, bicycle, scooter and on foot.

There also are long lines at the border with Kazakhstan, which has taken in more than 98,000 Russians in the past week.

Russia has land borders with 14 countries.

Moscow was poised on Wednesday to claim a swath of Ukraine, releasing what it called vote tallies showing support in four partially occupied provinces to join Russia, after what Kyiv and the West denounced as illegal sham referendums held at gunpoint.

On Moscow’s Red Square, a tribune with giant video screens has been set up, with billboards proclaiming “Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, Kherson – Russia!”

President Vladimir Putin could claim the annexation in a speech within days, just over a week since he endorsed the referendums, ordered a military mobilisation at home and threatened to defend Russia with nuclear weapons if necessary.

The Russian-installed administrations of the four Ukrainian provinces on Wednesday formally asked Putin to incorporate them into Russia, which Russian officials have suggested is a formality.

“The results are clear. Welcome home, to Russia!,” Dmitry Medvedev, a former president who serves as deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, said on Telegram, after the release of the results.

Russian-backed authorities claim to have carried out the referendums over five days on territory that makes up around 15 per cent of Ukraine.

European leaders on Wednesday vowed a “robust” response to any attacks on their energy infrastructure following a series of breaches in underwater pipelines that poured tons of natural gas into the Baltic Sea.

Activists hold an anti-Russian banner at the Georgia-Russian border during an action organised by political party Droa near the border crossing at Verkhny Lars between Georgia and Russia in Georgia. WednesdayCredit:AP

Although investigations into the simultaneous leaks in Nord Stream pipelines are in their early stages, most are firmly pointing to sabotage as the cause for the blasts.

“These incidents show that energy infrastructure is not safe,” Viktorija Cmilyte-Nielsen, speaker of Lithuania’s Parliament, told a local radio station Wednesday. “It can be interpreted as a warning.”

AP, Reuters

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