Jailed Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny (file photo)
The imprisoned Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny has slammed Vladimir Putin and an opposition group has called for nationwide protests after the Russian leader ordered a military mobilization amid the country's recent military losses in Ukraine during a Ukrainian military counteroffensive.
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Putin, in a televised address to the nation aired earlier on September 21, also warned the West that he isn't bluffing over using all the means at his disposal to protect Russia's territory.
Navalny said Putin was sending more Russians to their death for a failing war in a video message recorded from prison and released on social media by his lawyers.
"It is clear that the criminal war is getting worse, deepening, and Putin is trying to involve as many people as possible in this," Navalny said.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told Russian state media that up to 300,000 could be called up with only those with relevant combat and service experience to be mobilized.
Another clause in the decree prevents most professional soldiers from terminating their contracts and leaving service until the partial mobilization is no longer in place.
Putin’s move comes a day after Russian-controlled regions in eastern and southern Ukraine announced plans to hold votes on becoming parts of Russia -- an action that could escalate the war following recent successes by the Ukrainian military in its ongoing counteroffensive in the northeast of the country.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who along with other Russian officials had long dismissed any talk of a mobilization, argued on September 21 that Russia is not only fighting Ukraine, but NATO as well because the alliance’s members have been supplying weapons to Kyiv.
Meanwhile, the Vesna opposition movement called for nationwide protests on September 21, saying “Thousands of Russian men -- our fathers, brothers and husbands -- will be thrown into the meat grinder of the war. What will they be dying for? What will mothers and children be crying for?"
Putin’s government has increased its crackdown on any dissent in Russia since ordering troops into Ukraine on February 24.
In March, Putin signed a law that calls for lengthy prison terms for distributing "deliberately false information" about Russian military operations as the Kremlin seeks to control the narrative about its war in Ukraine.
Shortly after Putin’s address, Russian media reported a sharp spike in demand for plane tickets abroad amid an apparent scramble to leave despite exorbitant prices for flights.
All flights from Moscow to Istanbul, Yerevan, Tashkent, and Baku scheduled for September 21 and 22 were sold out, the Russian business paper RBC reported .
European Union member Latvia, which borders Russia, will not offer refuge to any Russians fleeing Moscow's mobilization of troops, Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said, citing security concerns.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, speaking to the UN General Assembly on September 20, said Putin will only give up his "imperial ambitions" if he recognized he cannot win the war.
Ukraine's neighbor Poland said Russia would attempt to destroy Ukraine and change its borders.
"We will do all we can with our allies, so that NATO supports Ukraine even more so that it can defend itself," Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said.
The U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Bridget Brink, tweeted that the mobilization is a sign "of weakness, of Russian failure.”
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace echoed that assessment, describing Putin's move as “an admission that his invasion is failing.”
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Putin's mobilization order was a sign of panic at the Kremlin, that should not be taken as a direct threat of full-out war with the West.
"The mobilization, calling for referenda in the Donetsk, it is all a sign of panic. His rhetoric on nuclear weapons is something we have heard many times before, and it leaves us cold," Rutte told Dutch broadcaster NOS.