Ukraine live briefing: Hundreds arrested in Russia during anti-mobilization protests

Police detain a woman Saturday in Moscow during demonstrations against Russia's plans to send more troops to Ukraine.
Police detain a woman Saturday in Moscow during demonstrations against Russia's plans to send more troops to Ukraine. (-/AFP/Getty Images)

Hundreds of people were arrested Saturday during demonstrations in Russia against the nation’s “partial mobilization” of troops that the Kremlin plans to throw into its invasion of Ukraine. Some who had participated in demonstrations earlier in the week had been given military summonses, state media reported.

The Kremlin’s staged referendums in Ukraine — which some residents called a vote “under a gun barrel” — were underway for a second day and were scheduled to continue until Tuesday in regions controlled by Russian forces. Western leaders have condemned the orchestrated referendums as a pretext to annex swaths of the country.

Here’s the latest on the war and its ripple effects across the globe.

Key developments

  • About 775 people had been arrested across Russia during protests against mobilization by early Saturday evening local time. Large columns of riot police confronted protesters in cities and towns, outnumbering protesters in some cases. Independent Russian outlets have posted videos of police beating protesters, most of them young people, before dragging them to vans. The number of arrests since Putin announced the mobilization is 2,080, according to OVD-Info.
  • Arrested people are receiving summonses for Russian military service, state media reported. Margarita Simonyan, editor in chief of state news outlet RT, tweeted that more than 200 male protesters who took part in Wednesday’s demonstrations against mobilization had been sent military summonses.
  • Anger is flaring as Russia’s mobilization affects minority regions and protesters. Despite official assurances that it is only a partial mobilization to help the war in Ukraine, the initial process has sparked fears that far more soldiers could be sent to fight than the 300,000 first announced, The Washington Post reports. Rights groups and activists expressed concern that the call-up was disproportionately targeting ethnic minorities in remote or impoverished parts of Russia.
  • The referendums, illegal under international law, will run until Tuesday in the separatist Luhansk and Donetsk territories in the east, Kherson in the south and parts of nearby Zaporizhzhia. There is little doubt that the announced result will overwhelmingly favor becoming part of Russia. When the Kremlin annexed the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 after a disputed vote, it claimed that nearly 97 percent supported joining Russia. The Kremlin has pledged to swiftly accept the regions into Russia after the vote.
  • The State Duma, the lower house of Russia’s parliament, may hold an emergency session for bills about incorporating occupied regions of Ukraine, Russia’s state-run news agency Tass reported on Saturday, citing an unnamed source. The bills may be submitted on Wednesday in time to pass them the following day, per Tass.

Battlefield updates

  • Officials in Zaporizhzhia are investigating the damage after 10 missiles struck the region, its governor Oleksandr Starukh said in a Telegram post Saturday.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a new law penalizing service members who leave their posts. The amendments, toughening the penalties for desertion, looting or “voluntary surrender,” were rushed through parliament Tuesday and Wednesday and are also designed to deter Russian contract soldiers in Ukraine from refusing to fight. Previously, soldiers could legally repudiate their military contracts. Under the new mobilization decree, military contracts have been extended indefinitely.
  • Zelensky said Russian soldiers who surrender would be treated in a “civilized manner.” In his nightly address Saturday, the president also stressed that the information about soldiers’ surrenders — such as whether they were voluntary — would be kept private, and that they would not be exchanged back to Russia if they did not wish to return.
  • Half of Russia’s 5 million police and law enforcement officials should be drafted, Chechnya leader and close Putin ally Ramzan Kadyrov said Saturday in an apparent sign of concern about the quality of draftees called up in Russia’s mobilization drive.
  • Some Russian men have been drafted by mistake, Aisen Nikolaev, head of the Sakha Republic, posted Saturday on his Telegram account. He said his government is working with the Kremlin to return men who were mobilized by “mistake.”

Global impact

  • Tehran said Saturday that it regretted Kyiv’s plan to revoke the accreditation of Iran’s ambassador and reduce diplomatic staff over alleged weapons supplies to Moscow. Iran’s Foreign Ministry said the move was based on “unconfirmed reports” and “media manipulation” after U.S. officials said Iran sent combat drones to Russia.
  • Finland will soon cut off entry for many Russians after a rise in border crossings attributed to Russia’s mobilization order, according to public broadcaster Yle. It is one of the last European Union member states with a land border open to Russians. Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania closed their borders to most Russian citizens.
  • The Group of Seven industrialized nations said Russia was trying to use “sham referendums … to create a phony pretext for changing the status of Ukrainian sovereign territory,” according to a White House release. The G-7 includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States.

From our correspondents

Propaganda newspapers show how Russia promoted annexation in Kharkiv: Over the months Russian troops occupied Izyum in Ukraine’s northeast, puppet authorities regularly distributed propaganda newspapers to residents, pushing a narrative of normalcy and unity even as homes and infrastructure were demolished, stores were looted, and civilians struggled to find basic provisions to survive.

A trove of the Russian-language newspapers, provided to The Washington Post by a resident who said he kept them “for history,” paints a surreal version of events on the ground running in near total contradiction to the narrative both from the Ukrainian government in Kyiv and accounts from residents who survived the violent takeover of the city in March.

Ukrainian forces recaptured Izyum in a surprise counteroffensive earlier this month, Siobhán O’Grady and Sergii Mukaieliants report, sparing the city from a staged referendum in an attempt to justify Russian annexation like those that began Friday in parts of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions.

The propaganda newspapers show how Russian forces tried to take advantage of the city’s information vacuum during the occupation when cellphone and internet service was mostly cut. The papers sought to evoke nostalgia among civilians for the Soviet era, to turn residents against Ukrainian forces and to promote deep historical and cultural ties with Russia, apparently in preparation for annexation.

Mary Ilyushina contributed to this report.