The woes of Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine have worsened, despite Russia’s many atrocities both on the battlefield and on the battlefield.
After the Russian president announced a partial mobilization on Wednesday to support “special military operations” in Ukraine, protests erupted in cities across Russia. Meanwhile, Russian nationalists denounced a prisoner exchange held this week after a successful counter-offensive in Ukraine earlier this month.
While the mobilization is a partial one affecting only active reservists, many fear that the draft could suddenly expand. Protesters risked arrest Wednesday night to demonstrate against it, and more than 1,200 were detained in Moscow and St. Petersburg, according to OVD-Info, an independent Russian human rights group. The organization also said that some of the detained protesters draft papers were handed over while in custody.
When asked about that claim, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said only, “It’s not against the law.”
The draft announcement also appeared to prompt an exodus of Russian men on Thursday. International airline ticket prices have soared, as has traffic at border crossings, including Finland and Georgia, according to Reuters. A Russian man in Istanbul, who declined to give his full name, told the news agency that he considered the move a “bad move” that would create “a lot of problems for many Russians.”
Alexander NEMENOV—AFP via Getty Images
Meanwhile, hardline nationalists stepped up their criticism of the campaign in Ukraine after a prisoner exchange was announced following the mobilization order. In the deal, Russia released some of the Ukrainian fighters who were protecting the Azovstal steel plant in a tight battle in Mariupal. Igor Girkin, former Russian intelligence officer, described the timing of the release as “worse than a crime, worse than a mistake, it is an extraordinary folly.”
“It is obviously impossible,” he added on his Telegram channel, “to do this at least two days before the presidential order announcing the mobilization.”
Putin’s ‘nuclear signalling’
Putin also hinted at the use of nuclear weapons when the draft was announced. This was done in part to appease his far-right critics, according to Dmitry Adamsky, a Russia expert at the Reichman Institute in Herzliya, Israel.
“Nuclear signaling is aimed at the West and Ukraine, but it is also intended to satisfy radical criticism at home that has become a serious opposition,” Adamsky spoke to Wall Street Journal.
Adding to the confusion are accusations of nepotism. The Russian language the YouTube channel Popular politics shared an audio recording which is said by 32-year-old Nikolay Peskov, the son of the Kremlin spokesman, which explains why he will not appear at the conscription office soon, even though he is a main candidate for the draft.
“Obviously I was not there at 10 in the morning. You must understand that I am Mr. Peskov,” said the speaker.
And among those bought for Ukrainian fighters is Viktor Medvedchuk, whose daughter considers Putin her godfather. For years Medvedchuk was Putin’s main agent of influence in Ukraine, as the deputy speaker of the country’s parliament he called for closer ties with Russia. He was exchanged with pilots and high military officers.
while fear of Putin deploying nuclear weapons progressing amid the pressure on him, Adamsky believed he still couldn’t do it.
“I think the possibility of using nuclear weapons in Russia is very low,” he said Journal“but we have never been close.”
Sign up for Fortune Features email list so you don’t miss our biggest features, exclusive interviews, and investigations.