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"Partial mobilisation" after increased clapping and hasty "referendums" - how Russia is escalating the war

23-9-2022 |

Fresh - freshly squeezed news from the international press. We prepare it 2 times a week.

The Guardian: "Partial" mobilisation is no different from regular mobilisation

Summons delivered to eligible men at midnight. Schoolteachers pressed into handing out draft notices. Men given an hour to pack their things and appear at draft centres. Women sobbing as they sent their husbands and sons off to fight in Russia’s war in Ukraine.

A propaganda poster in Buryatia
Photo: Ayuna Shagdurova

The first full day of Russia’s first mobilisation since the second world war produced emotional showdowns at draft centres and even signs of protest, while it appears Russia could be considering far more than the 300,000 new conscripts claimed by the defence minister, Sergei Shoigu.

One woman in a small village in the Zakamensky region of Buryatia, in eastern Siberia, said she first felt something was amiss when the dogs began barking about midnight. In a community of 450 people, the village head was walking from house to house, seeking to hand out more than 20 draft notices. As men gathered before departing the next morning, she said, some drank vodka, while others hugged and told each other to stay safe. Women cried and made the sign of the cross over the small minibus that carried them away.

“It’s not a partial mobilisation, it’s a 100% mobilisation,” said Alexandra Garmazhapova, president of the Free Buryatia Foundation, an activist group that has reported on the draft in the region. In the past day, she said, she and her colleagues had received and identified more than 3,000 reports of povestka, or draft papers, being delivered in Buryatia within just 24 hours of Vladimir Putin announcing the draft.

Despite assurances that Russia would be seeking men who had recently served in the army and had combat experience, activists pointed to a number of cases of men in their 50s receiving draft notices.

During a televised interview on Wednesday, Shoigu said Russia would be targeting 300,000 draftees, mainly those with recent military experience. But the actual number in an order signed by Putin is secret.

Some think it could be far higher. The independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta Europe reported that a source in the presidential administration said Russia was seeking to draft more than 1 million people into the army. That reporting has not been confirmed by other news outlets.

But video and anecdotal evidence from around Russia has shown large drafts taking place even in small towns, suggesting that the numbers could be far higher.

Buddhist monks sing hymns for Russian soldiers killed fighting in Ukraine as hundreds of mourners gather in Ulan-Ude, capital of the remote Buryatia region.

Many are in Russia’s ethnic minority republics, reinforcing a sense that the country has been disproportionately relying on ethnic minorities to provide its main fighting force in Ukraine. Those regions have also suffered a disproportionate number of deaths and casualties from the war.

In Dagestan, a video appeared to show people angrily confronting an official arguing in favour of the draft at a recruitment centre.

“You’re fighting for your children’s future,” shouted the woman, who was not identified, in front of a crowd outside a municipal building.

“We don’t have a present, what kind of future are you talking about?” a man in the crowd responded.

In Moscow, hundreds gathered to protest on downtown Arbat Street after Putin announced the mobilisation. Police officers reportedly began giving draft notices to those they detained at the protest.

Among them was Artem Krieger, a young reporter for the Sota Vision news outlet, who was detained despite being there to cover the protests.

“All the men, absolutely everyone, was given a draft notice,” said Krieger during an interview with TV Rain from the back of a police van. That included men who had never served in the army, he said, who were now required to appear at their local recruitment centres.

In a phone call with journalists, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov appeared to confirm that police were handing down draft notices to detainees. “It does not violate the law,” he said.

BBC: Why is Russia organising illegal referendums on invaded territories?

Russian-backed officials in four occupied regions of Ukraine are holding self-styled referendums on joining Russia.

Denounced as illegitimate and a sham by Ukraine and the West, these so-called votes are taking place over five days while all four areas - two in the east and two in the south - are on the front line.

An annexation could could lead to a claim by Russia that its territory is coming under attack from Western weapons supplied to Ukraine.

This could escalate the war further.

What is going on and why now?

Seven months after Russia's invasion began, Vladimir Putin is on the back foot. Ukraine's counter-offensive has recaptured swathes of territory seized since the 24 February invasion.

A vote on annexation is one of three steps taken by the Kremlin in an attempt to reset the war.

By annexing another 15% of sovereign Ukraine, Russia will be able to claim its territory is under attack from weapons provided by Nato and other Western countries to Ukraine.

By calling up 300,000 extra troops, it can defend a front line of 1,000km. The Kremlin has also criminalised desertion, surrender and going absent without leave during mobilisation.

If Russia's leader annexing territory sounds familiar, it is. When he ordered troops to seize Crimea in 2014, he followed it up with a vote rejected as an illegitimate sham by the international community.

This latest event has also been denounced as illegal by many Western countries, including international monitoring group, the OSCE, and Russian media have already said that a Yes-vote is beyond doubt.

Given Russia's long-standing practice of ballot box stuffing, there is little doubt of a positive outcome.

It is taking place over five days in Russia's two proxy areas in Luhansk and Donetsk in the east, and in occupied parts of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south.

What makes these votes a sham?

We have already seen how Crimea was annexed by Russia in 2014. While the Kremlin claimed 96.7% support, a leaked report from Russia's Human Rights Council said only around 30% had voted and barely half supported annexation.

The four regions involved are either partially or completely under occupation.

In the south, the city of Kherson is not a safe place right now, with Russian soldiers struggling to hold back a big Ukrainian counter-offensive. The central administration building was hit by a series of missiles only last week.

A secure vote is impossible, and yet officials talk of 750,000 people registered and plans to incorporate occupied parts of another Ukrainian region, Mykolayiv, into the annexed area.

Russian media reported that electoral officials would go from door-to-door with portable ballot boxes from Friday to Monday.

Polling stations will only operate on the fifth day, 27 September, with officials citing security reasons.

Hundreds of stations are scheduled to open that day, with voters also able to cast ballots in regions outside their own - and refugees eligible to vote in parts of Russia itself.

Then there's Zaporizhzhia's capital, which remains securely in Ukrainian hands, so any vote to annex that region makes little sense.

Donetsk in the east is only 60% under Russian occupation and very much at the heart of the conflict.

Much of the pre-war population has fled the conflict. The head of Russia's proxy authority in Donetsk, Denis Pushilin, ordered a mass evacuation days before the invasion.

Russian-backed leaders have been keen to stage votes for several months, but the decision to hold the vote was taken just three days in advance and smacks of desperation.

There will be no independent observers. Much of the voting will be online, although officials have promised extra security at polling stations.

What will change?

Ukrainian defence ministry adviser Yuriy Sak told the BBC the so-called referendums were doomed. "We are seeing that local populations are all in favour of returning to Ukraine, and this is why there's so much guerrilla movement resistance in these territories."

In any event, Kyiv says nothing will change and its forces will continue to push to liberate the territories.

Russia analyst Alexander Baunov says merely redefining the occupied areas as Russian territory is unlikely to stop Ukraine's army, but it does send a message of intent to the populations under their control. And the Kremlin's hope is that the West will baulk at having its weapons fired at land declared by Moscow as Russian.

Alarmingly President Putin has spoken of using all means at his disposal "to protect Russia". And in case there was any doubt at all. the deputy head of Russia's security council, Dmitry Medvedev, made clear that nuclear weapons could also be used to protect annexed territories.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has spoken of a "dangerous escalation", but reaffirmed Washington's position that no Russian claim to Ukrainian soil could take away Ukraine's right to defend itself.

Even Turkey, which has sought to play a mediating role, has damned the vote as illegitimate.

France24: Women's rights in Italy under threat

Italy’s surging far-right parties have been eroding abortion rights at the regional level, adding further hurdles to what was already an obstacle course for many women. With Giorgia Meloni’s right-wing coalition tipped to win the country’s general election on Sunday, there are fears the same policies could be replicated at the national level. 

The president of Brothers of Italy Giorgia Meloni
Photo: Luca Zennaro/EPA

Italy legalised abortion in 1978, making the procedure freely available during the first 90 days of pregnancy. In practice, however, women face obstacles at every turn, from doctors refusing to approve or carry out abortions to regional governments ignoring the law and staffing key agencies with anti-abortion activists.

A scion of Italy's post-fascist right, Meloni’s party has made bolstering Italy’s low birthrate a key priority.

At a recent rally in Milan, she warned that the “Italian nation” was “destined to disappear”. Like other far-right oufits, her party has supplemented its nationalist, anti-immigrant pitch with messages about conservative social values and the protection of traditional families. Its motto is “God, homeland, family”.

Brothers of Italy denies it plans to repeal the country’s landmark abortion law, arguing instead that it will “improve” it by guaranteeing “alternatives to abortion”.

Its policy platform contains ambiguous language, such as a pledge to “protect life from the beginning”. At a rally staged by Spain's far-right Vox party in June, Meloni shouted: “Yes to the culture of life! No to the culture of death!” 

CNN: Oktoberfest causes religious disputes in Malaysia

The world's largest beer festival is finally back after a two year dry spell but politicians in one country are still against celebrations returning -- and it isn't because of the pandemic.

"Although non-Muslims are not prohibited from drinking alcohol, the (Malaysian) government is of the opinion that allowing this festival to happen and making it open to the public should not happen as it will cause social problems," remarked Religious Affairs Minister Idris Ahmad, also a member of the conservative Islamist party PAS, in a written Parliamentary statement.

While he did clarify that his comments were about Muslims and that non-Muslims were still free to drink alcohol, he claimed that beer, traditionally consumed in heavy amounts at Oktoberfest events, would only lead to "social problems."

Originating in Munich, Germany, and held annually between the months of September and October, Oktoberfest celebrates and promotes local Bavarian culture. Beer is widely consumed during the festivities and traditional German food like bratwursts (pork sausages) and sauerkraut are served.

It remains a yearly debate in Malaysia. A Muslim-majority nation, Malaysia practices a moderate form of Sunni Islam but conservative attitudes have been on the rise in recent years. Approximately 63.5% of the 32 million population is Muslim.

Oktoberfest in Malaysia

Religious groups like PAS have consistently opposed Oktoberfest events being promoted and held in the country, saying that the Bavarian festival disrespects "Muslim sensitivities" because of alcohol and other non-halal offerings openly served. One local politician in 2017 even took things a step further by smashing crates of beer in front of a government building in protest.

The opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP) rebutted the recent ministerial comments calling for Oktoberfest to be banned.

"Oktoberfest has been celebrated in Malaysia for over 50 years and has yet to cause any racial or religious tensions in the community -- in spite of this, incessant fear mongering over this event has persisted," DAP said in a statement that added it was "not surprised" by the recent complaints.

"As a multicultural and diverse nation, our tolerance and respect for one another has to be the way forward for Malaysia to thrive socially and economically. These are indeed challenging times for us and it is sad that PAS has chosen to focus their attention on Oktoberfest when there are clearly far more pressing issues at hand."

Picked and squeezed for you: Irina Iakovleva