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Moscow contends with violence over its plan to enlist reservists to fight in Ukraine

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

A man walked into a Russian recruitment office and opened fire, injuring an officer.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It happened yesterday in the Russian region of Siberia. The shooting was part of the growing resistance against Vladimir Putin's decision to mobilize some 300,000 reservists for the Kremlin's military campaign in Ukraine. And as the domestic backlash to this decision grows, Russia is also holding the final day of voting in this series of referendums in occupied portions of Ukraine.

MARTINEZ: For more on both, we're joined by NPR's Charles Maynes in Moscow. Charles, the mobilization was announced on Wednesday. The protests aren't huge, but they're also not going away, either. In fact, they seem to be spreading.

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Yeah. You know, A, there are real signs of discontent and not in the usual opposition hotspots like Moscow and St. Petersburg. As you mentioned, we saw this lone gunman wound that enlistment officer at the recruitment center in Siberia. The suspect's family later said he was angry his best friend had been drafted to fight in Ukraine, despite having no military experience. Meanwhile, in the town of Ryazan - this is outside Moscow - a would-be draftee set fire to himself yesterday to avoid service. In Dagestan, to Russia's south, we've seen two straight days of protests as well. You know, here, let me just play a little tape.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in non-English language).

MAYNES: You know, here was the scene in the capital, Makhachkala, where women in particular were out on the streets chanting no to war. A melee later broke out between demonstrators and police. And that follows dozens of other anti-mobilization demonstrations around the country, with over 2,200 people detained since Putin's announcement.

MARTINEZ: Yeah, we've seen video of long lines of cars backed up at the border, presumably men trying to get out of there, and rumors of border closures to men of fighting age. Tell us about that.

MAYNES: Well, right. You know, the Kremlin says there are no plans to shut the borders, but that hasn't convinced young Russian men to stop running or, more to the point, driving for the exits in neighboring countries. They've also been jumping on planes for places where visa-free travel still exists. But those tickets are drying up or getting insanely expensive. We hear now of $10,000-plus airfares for what used to cost a fraction, and that's if you're lucky. You know, this morning, Turkey's national carrier announced it was stopping service from Russia until the new year.

MARTINEZ: All right, now back to the voting in Ukraine. It's obviously condemned by the West as a sham, an effort to annex these areas as part of Russia. How's the Kremlin selling this vote back home?

MAYNES: Well, as you know, you know, this voting has been condemned by the West as a violation of international law. And the end goal in Russia, indeed, seems to be annexation. But it also seems to be part of a Kremlin strategy to reframe the conflict at home. You know, before, people were told Russian troops were liberating Ukraine. After these votes are tallied and the territories are presumably annexed, the government can argue Russian forces are now defending this newly expanded homeland. Whether that argument is convincing to average Russians is a different issue.

MARTINEZ: Now, finally, a familiar name popped up in the news. Edward Snowden, the former NSA whistleblower, is still in Russia, and it's just been announced that he's now a Russian citizen?

MAYNES: Yeah. You know, many will remember Snowden arrived in Russia back in 2013 after leaking files that exposed this vast surveillance network. During the pandemic, announced - Snowden said he and his wife wanted to apply for Russian citizenship, and Vladimir Putin issued a decree making it so.

MARTINEZ: All right. That's NPR's Charles Maynes in Moscow. Charles, thanks.

MAYNES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Charles Maynes
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