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Gunman attacks Russian military recruiter as thousands flee mobilization

A gunman apparently angered by Russia’s military mobilization opened fire at a recruitment office in Ust-Ilimsk, a small town in Russia’s Irkutsk region, on Monday, local authorities said. (@Taygainfo/Reuters)
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A young man shot and wounded the chief recruitment officer at a military enlistment station in Russia’s Irkutsk region on Monday, local authorities said, as thousands of fighting-age men continued to flee the country to escape President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine.

The alleged shooter in the attack on the military commissariat in Ust-Ilimsk, a small town in Irkutsk, was apparently distraught that his close friend had been called for duty despite having no prior military service.

When Putin announced a “partial mobilization” last week, he said only experienced servicemen would be summoned. “In other words, only military reservists, primarily those who served in the armed forces and have specific military occupational specialties and corresponding experience, will be called up,” he assured Russians in a national address.

But there have been a torrent of reports from across Russia, even from ardent supporters of the war, of people being summoned for duty despite having no military experience, or being too old or physically incapable of serving. Those reports, along with the government’s acknowledgment that thousands of fighting-age men have fled the country to avoid conscription, suggest that the chaotic mobilization is becoming the latest debacle in Putin’s war.

A video clip of Monday’s shooting showed the suspect, identified as 25-year-old Ruslan Zinin, firing at least one shot inside the office.

“The shooter was immediately arrested, and he will definitely be punished,” Irkutsk regional governor Igor Kobzev wrote in his Telegram blog. “I can’t wrap my head around what happened, and I am ashamed that this is happening at a time when, on the contrary, we should be united.”

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The recruiter, Alexander Eliseev, has been hospitalized in critical condition, Kobzev said.

Zinin’s mother, Marina Zinina, told Russian outlet ASTRA that her son was upset because his best friend got a mobilization summons despite never having served in the army.

“They said that there would be partial mobilization, but it turns out that they take everyone,” she was quoted as saying.

As local commissariats rushed to fulfill quotas, call-up notices were sent to men who should be legally exempt from service because of their age, health or lack of military experience.

Some were sent home after a public uproar. Others, such as 59-year-old Viktor Dyachok, who has Stage 1 skin cancer and is blind in one eye, were called to duty, independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported.

“He has astigmatism, hypertension, age-related deafness,” his daughter told the newspaper, saying the family had hoped he would be granted a medical dispensation. “[But] no one at the hospital objected to this; everyone follows the plan.”

Amid swirling confusion over who would be summoned, thousands of Russians continued to flee the country, fearing the Kremlin would soon move to shut the borders. The attack in Irkutsk was just one in a spate of incidents that show resistance to the mobilization is becoming more widespread — and more unpredictable.

In Ryazan, a city in western Russia, a man reportedly set himself on fire at a bus station to protest the war. Local outlet reported that he “started laughing and shouting that he did not want to participate in the special operation in Ukraine,” using the Kremlin-preferred euphemism for the war.

A video online showed the man, who did not appear to be severely injured, being led outside the bus terminal by police and ambulance workers.

Sporadic protests have also broken out, including in Russian regions populated mainly by ethnic minorities, such as Dagestan, where the majority of residents are Muslim, and the Indigenous lands of Buryatia and Yakutia. Local activists say men in these areas are being disproportionately targeted by the mobilization.

More than 2,300 protesters have been detained across dozens of Russian cities since Putin announced the partial mobilization Wednesday morning, according to rights group OVD-Info, which monitors protest activity.

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Traffic jams stretching for miles have formed at the border crossings with Georgia and Kazakhstan as the departure of Russians continued through the weekend and on Monday.

“The jam at the Russian-Georgian border continues to be about 20 kilometers long” — roughly 12½ miles — “and the wait time to cross into Georgia is now up to three days,” Nikolai Levshitz, a Russian-speaking blogger who helps expatriates assimilate in Georgia, wrote in his daily Telegram update.

With air tickets to virtually all visa-free destinations long sold out, Russians are fleeing by foot, by car or even by bicycle. Photos and video clips posted on social media have shown piles of abandoned bicycles near border posts.

One Russian man who flew into Istanbul on Monday morning said he took a charter flight from Moscow because commercial flights were sold out. He said he paid about $5,000 for his ticket.

Reports from Russian independent outlets said that authorities could close the country’s borders to military-age men as soon as Wednesday.

The outlets Meduza and Khodorkovsky Live, citing Russian government sources, each reported that Moscow will halt departures as soon as it announces the results of the staged referendums now being carried out in parts of four Ukrainian regions occupied by Russia. There is no doubt that the results of the referendums, which are illegal under Ukrainian and international law, will be reported by the Kremlin as showing overwhelming support for Russian annexation.

Western countries have slammed the referendums as a “sham,” and Britain announced a new round of sanctions Monday against more than 90 individuals and companies involved in organizing the process, which is expected to conclude on Tuesday.

“Sham referendums held at the barrel of a gun cannot be free or fair and we will never recognise their results,” British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said in a statement. “They follow a clear pattern of violence, intimidation, torture, and forced deportations in the areas of Ukraine Russia has seized.”

Kremlin proxies stage referendums as Russia aims to seize Ukrainian land

Putin and other Russian officials have signaled that once Russia annexes the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, the Kremlin would consider any Ukrainian attacks there as direct strikes against Russia — creating the justification for stronger reprisals, including the possible use of nuclear weapons, and providing a basis for declaring partial or full-fledged martial law.

On Monday, Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov deflected those rumors, saying that “no decisions have been made in this regard.”

But Russia’s international isolation is deepening. Japan announced Monday that it would ban exports to 21 Russian organizations that could be used to produce chemical weapons, and Tokyo warned Moscow against making further nuclear threats.

Later Monday, Russia’s domestic security agency detained the Japanese consul general in the eastern city of Vladivostok, Motoki Tatsunori, and accused him of spying. Russian authorities declared him persona non grata, meaning he must leave the country.

About 1,000 miles from Moscow, Putin met with his closest ally, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, in the sunny Black Sea resort town of Sochi.

Lukashenko allowed Putin to use Belarus as a staging ground for the invasion of Ukraine in February, and has remained publicly supportive throughout the conflict, even as Russia has lost ground and momentum.

In 2020, Lukashenko claimed he was reelected in an election widely condemned as fraudulent. He then cracked down on protests, subjecting thousands of Belarusians to beatings and harsh prison sentences. In the two years since, up to 200,000 people have left Belarus.

In their meeting Monday, Lukashenko told Putin not to “worry” about the Russian men now doing the same.

“Let’s say 30,000, even 50,000 left,” Lukashenko told Putin. “So what? If they had stayed here, would they have been our people? Let them run.”

Robyn Dixon and Natalia Abbakumova in Riga, Latvia, and Kareem Fahim in Istanbul contributed to this report.