Russian police have dispersed peaceful demonstrations against President Vladimir Putin's military mobilization order, arresting hundreds, including some children, across the country, as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned Russians that their leader was knowingly "sending citizens to their deaths."
According to OVD-Info, an independent website that monitors political arrests in Russia, police detained about 750 individuals, including over 370 in the capital Moscow and approximately 150 in St. Petersburg. On Saturday, OVD-Info reported that a few of those arrested were juveniles.
To bolster his soldiers fighting in Ukraine, Putin on Wednesday called up 300,000 army reservists, prompting protests within hours. The move followed Russian military failures on the battlefield in Ukraine. On Saturday, a Russian general in charge of supplying the Ukrainian frontlines was replaced.
Police were deployed in places where opposition party Vesna and followers of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny planned to stage demonstrations, quickly detaining activists before they could hold demonstrations.
In his late-night message, the Ukrainian president urged Moscow's forces to surrender, stating that they would be "treated civilly... no one will know the circumstances of your surrender."
The remarks were made mere hours after Russia passed a law making voluntary surrender and desertion punishable by ten years in prison.
A separate bill also signed on Saturday made it easier for foreigners who enroll in the Russian army for at least a year to obtain Russian citizenship, circumventing the usual residency requirement of five years.
Officially, Russia considers millions of former conscripts as reservists - the vast majority of the male population of fighting age – and the "partial mobilization" did not specify who would be called up.
Men with no military experience or who are over the age of conscription have reportedly received draft notices, adding to the anger that has reignited anti-war protests.
Even Putin's allies appeared to be spreading criticism. The director of the Russian president's commission for human rights, Valery Fadeyev, urged Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to stop the cruel manner in which many draft boards were operating.
The editor-in-chief of the pro-Kremlin Russian television network RT voiced outrage at the new hires. People are enraged as though on purpose, out of spite. As if they were despatched from Kyiv," she stated.
The defense ministry announced that the deputy minister in charge of logistics, four-star General Dmitry Bulgakov, had been replaced "for transfer to another role" without providing further information.
As long lines of men attempting to flee Russia gathered at its borders, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov delivered an angry speech accusing Western nations of trying to "destroy" the country before the UN General Assembly.
Lavrov stated, "The official Russophobia in the West is unprecedented, and its scope is now grotesque."
"They make no secret of their intention to not only defeat our country militarily, but also to destroy and fracture Russia."
In the meantime, Russia held its second day of so-called referendums in four seized regions of Ukraine and appears poised to formally annex a large portion of the land the following week.
Kyiv and the West have criticized the elections as a fraud, claiming that the outcomes will favor annexation.
Putin warned this week that Moscow would use "all means" to defend its territory, which former Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev suggested could include "strategic nuclear weapons" on social media.
The annexation raises concerns that Russia may perceive any military action in the seized regions as an assault on its territory.