Volodymyr Zelenskiy has called on Russians to resist the partial military mobilisation announced by Vladimir Putin, which has sparked protests and a fresh exodus out of Russia. The Ukrainian president said in his daily address on Thursday: “55,000 Russian soldiers died in these six months of war … Want more? No? Then protest, fight back, run away, or surrender” to the Ukrainian army.
Thousands of men across Russia have been handed draft papers after the mobilisation announcement. Among those called up since Putin’s announcement on Wednesday were Russians detained while protesting against the mobilisation, the independent OVD-Info protest monitoring group said.
Traffic at Russian border crossings with Finland and Georgia surged after the mobilisation announcement sparked fears that men of fighting age would be called to the frontlines in Ukraine. Prices for one-way flights out of Moscow to the nearest foreign locations rose above $5,000 (£4,435), with most air tickets sold out for the coming days. Photos showed long tailbacks at border crossings with Finland and Georgia.
In response, Finland’s prime minister said her government was considering ways to sharply reduce Russian tourism and transit through Finland. “The government’s will is very clear: we believe Russian tourism [to Finland] must be stopped, as well as transit through Finland,” Sanna Marin told reporters.
The Kremlin has dismissed reports of an exodus of Russian men of fighting age as “exaggerated”. The Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, also declined to deny Russian media reports that some anti-mobilisation protesters detained on Wednesday night had been given draft papers, saying: “This is not against the law.”
Putin is giving directions directly to generals in the field, CNN reported. The direct orders from the Russian president to generals “hints at the dysfunctional command structure” that has affected Russian forces on the battlefield, according to two sources familiar with American and western intelligence who spoke to CNN.
Nato has condemned plans to hold “referendums” on joining the Russian Federation in Russian-occupied regions in Ukraine, describing them as Moscow’s “blatant attempts at territorial conquest”. “Sham referenda” in the regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson have no legitimacy, the alliance said.
The Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orban, wants European Union sanctions on Russia lifted by the end of the year, a pro-government daily newspaper said. Orban, a Putin ally, has frequently railed against the sanctions imposed on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.
Many of the Ukrainians exchanged in the largest prisoner swap with Russia since the beginning of the invasion show signs of violent torture, the head of Ukraine’s military intelligence said on Thursday. On Wednesday, Ukraine announced the exchange of a record-high 215 imprisoned soldiers with Russia, including fighters who led the defence of Mariupol’s Azovstal steelworks that became an icon of Ukrainian resistance.
Britain’s foreign secretary, James Cleverly, said he was “not surprised” that Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, walked out of a UN security council meeting. “I don’t think Mr Lavrov wants to hear the collective condemnation of this council,” Cleverly said at the UN.
The UN secretary general, António Guterres, has strongly rebuked Russia for “totally unacceptable” nuclear threats. Speaking at the start of a UN security council meeting the day after Putin raised the stakes in his invasion of Ukraine, Guterres said Moscow’s plans to annex parts of Ukraine were a “violation of the UN charter and of international law”.
Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesperson, also denied reports that an undisclosed clause in Putin’s mobilisation decree provided for 1 million reservists to be enlisted to fight in Ukraine. “This is a lie,” Peskov said in response to a report by Novaya Gazeta.
Five Britons released from Russia are meeting their families after several months of captivity in which it was feared they would be executed for fighting for Ukraine. A major diplomatic effort was behind the release of the five Britons who, together with two Americans, a Moroccan, a Croat and a Swedish national, were released by Russia to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.