Russia-Ukraine war: Russians flee to avoid draft as west says Putin faces ‘major challenges’ to recruit 300,000 – live

This is from Dan Sabbagh, the Guardian’s defence and security editor:

Western officials believe that Russia “will face major challenges” to mobilise 300,000 more people to its armed forces and that the country’s military will struggle to train and equip any new recruits unless the Kremlin waits several months before deploying them on the front line in Ukraine.

The intelligence experts acknowledged that the true recruitment target could be higher, but although some reports have suggested the Kremlin’s real goal is to mobilise 1million, the officials reiterated in a briefing on Friday that it was their belief it will be very hard for Russia to reach 300,000, never mind any larger figure.

When pressed, one official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that 300,000 was “an immense number of people to then try to get in any sense of semblance to be able to fight in Ukraine”. The official added: “The authorities will face major challenges even in mustering this number of personnel.”

Russia has faced problems with training and equipment throughout the conflict so far, and the officials said that would almost certainly extend to newly pressed recruits. “We think that they will be very challenged in training, let alone equipping such a large force quickly,” the official said. Recruits will likely be issued “old stuff and unreliable equipment,” they said.

Western officials believe there was a clear regional bias in Russian recruitment, focusing on poor and minority areas in the country’s east – and avoiding the country’s middle class urban centres. “We are not as yet seeing at the moment, recruiting teams in St. Petersburg or Moscow,” an official said.

Western officials are not keen to engage particularly with recent nuclear threats issued by Vladimir Putin, but they did say they believed that it was not necessarily the case that any Ukrainian territory annexed in the coming days through so-called referendums and weeks would be deemed as covered by its nuclear umbrella.

“Russian red lines are not necessarily where they say they are,” the official said, and that “there are parts of the territory that Russia now controls which are of greater strategic significance to Moscow than others”. Although the locations were not spelled out, the Kremlin has long placed a high value on Crimea as well as the parts of Donetsk and Luhansk provinces occupied since 2014.

Russian men are beginning to be drafted into the army to help Russia’s war with Ukraine after Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilisation on Tuesday.

The Russian president claimed the mobilisation would involve drafting 300,000 men who had previous combat experience, although reports suggest drafts have been sent to students and people with no prior military training.

Ukrainians living in areas occupied by Russian troops are being forced to vote in “referendums” organised by pro-Moscow authorities, according to Ukrainian officials.

Andriy Yusov, a Ukrainian defence intelligence official, told CNN:

There is no referendum as such. It is imitation. Local residents are ignoring it. Some people are simply forced to vote. There were buses of people brought it from Crimea to cast ballots.

Ukraine’s state security service (SBU) has said it obtained copies of documents showing that the Russian-backed separatist-held so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) planned to allow teenagers under the age of 18 to cast their votes in the “referendum”.

The SBU report said:

The invaders hope to expand the ‘electoral base’ supporting the accession of the eastern part of Ukraine to the Russian Federation and involve local residents aged 13 to 17 in pseudo-voting.

Sped-up footage appears to show long lines of vehicles at a checkpoint on the Russia-Georgia border, a popular route used by Russians to leave the country.

Vladimir Putin’s decision to announce the first mobilisation since the second world war has led to a rush among men of military age to leave Russia.

Usually sleepy border crossings into Kazakhstan and Mongolia have also been overwhelmed by the sudden influx of Russians looking for a way out.

Ukraine’s armed forces said it has liberated another settlement in the Donetsk region and improved their positions around the eastern town of Bakhmut.

The village of Yatskivka in Donetsk region is now in Ukrainian hands, according to Oleksii Hromov, deputy head of the operations directorate of the general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces.

The situation further south around Bakhmut was “difficult but under control,” Hromov said in a briefing in Kyiv, adding that Russia “continued to conduct offensive actions in order to expel our units” from their positions around Bakhmut and elsewhere along the front lines in Donetsk.

The Finnish government has announced it will “significantly restrict the entry of Russian citizens” after the country saw a boom in Russian travellers over its eastern border following Vladimir Putin’s mobilisation orders.

Finland will now restrict new visas, the government said in a statement, citing “serious damage to Finland’s international position”.

Cars queue to cross the border from Russia to Finland at the Vaalimaa border check point in Virolahti, Finland.

The move comes a day after Finland’s prime minister Sanna Marin said Russian “tourism and travel has to be stopped” after the number of Russians entering the country doubled on Thursday, a border agency spokesperson told AFP.

“The fear is that we end up being the only border country through which it’s possible to travel from Russia to Europe with a Schengen visa granted by another country,” Finland’s foreign minister, Pekka Haavisto, told local media on Wednesday.

A former Nato secretary general has slammed the French president, Emmanuel Macron, for his diplomatic efforts in response to the war in Ukraine.

The comments by Anders Fogh Rasmussen, a former Danish prime minister, came after criticism about how Macron kept an open line with Vladimir Putin even after the invasion of Ukraine.

In June, the French president said Putin had made a “historic and fundamental” error in invading Ukraine but that “we must not humiliate Russia”.

Macron’s efforts were a failure and “deeply harmful” for Ukraine, Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in an interview with French magazine Le Point.

Rasmussen said:

Macron astonished us at the beginning of the crisis with his, to say the least, unique and critical statement that Putin should not be humiliated and offered an exit ramp. Such statements were disastrous and deeply harmful.

With minimal preparation, armed soldiers standing guard and the booms of war often audible in the distance, so-called referendums got under way on Friday in areas of Ukraine occupied by Russian troops.

Residents in Russian-controlled parts of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions were told to vote on proposals for the four areas to declare independence and then join Russia.

The polls have been widely condemned in Kyiv and the west as illegitimate, and appear to be a thin attempt to provide cover for the illegal annexation of the regions by Moscow. They were hastily organised after being announced earlier this week, and are due to run until Tuesday.

A man casts his ballot at a polling station in Luhansk, Ukraine. The referendums have been widely condemned in Kyiv and the west as illegitimate.

President Vladimir Putin has indicated that Russia plans to claim the territories after the voting formalities are over, and he threatened on Wednesday that Moscow would be prepared to defend its gains using all available means, including nuclear weapons.

The Guardian spoke to several people in the occupied city of Kherson via secure messaging apps on Thursday and Friday, who all reported a lack of activity on the ground.

“I don’t know anyone who is planning to go this weekend and vote. I am against annexation, but why even bother voting? Everything is already decided for us – I am sure they will count the votes the way it pleases them. It is all pointless,” said Svitlana, who described herself as a largely apolitical stay-at-home mother.

Read the full story here:

It’s 6pm in Kyiv. Here’s where we stand:

  • The UN has said its investigators have concluded that Russia committed war crimes in Ukraine, including bombings of civilian areas, numerous executions, torture and horrific sexual violence. The team of three independent experts had launched initial investigations looking at the areas of Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy regions where they were “struck by the large number of executions in the areas that we visited”, and the frequent “visible signs of executions on bodies, such as hands tied behind backs, gunshot wounds to the head, and slit throats”.

  • The governor of the Kharkiv region Oleh Synyehubov has said 436 bodies have been exhumed from a mass burial site in the eastern city of Izium. Thirty of the bodies bore visible signs of torture in the burial site in Kharkiv, a region held largely by Russian forces before a Ukrainian counteroffensive this month, Synyehubov told reporters, adding that three more grave sites have been located in areas retaken by Ukraine.

  • 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.

  • Long lines of vehicles continue to form at Russia’s border crossings on the second day full day of Vladimir Putin’s military mobilisation. The Russian president’s decision to announce the first mobilisation since the second world war has led to a rush among men of military age to leave the country, with some men waiting over 24 hours or resorting to using bicycles and scooters to skip the miles-long queue of traffic jams. Traffic into Finland across its south-eastern border with Russia continues to be busy, the Finnish border force said.

  • So-called “referendums” are under way in areas of Ukraine occupied by Russian troops, with residents told to vote on proposals for the four Ukrainian regions to declare independence and then join Russia. The polls in Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia provinces are due to run until Tuesday and appear to be a thin attempt to provide cover for illegal annexation of the regions by Moscow.

  • The “referendums” have been widely condemned in the west as illegitimate. Britain’s ambassador to Ukraine, Melinda Simmons, described the “sham referenda” as “a media exercise” by Russia for whom the outcomes have been “almost certainly already decided”. Nato described the “referendums” as Moscow’s “blatant attempts at territorial conquest” and said they have no legitimacy.

  • Western officials believe that Russia “will face major challenges” to mobilise 300,000 more people to its armed forces. Russia has faced problems with training and equipment throughout the conflict so far, and the officials said that would almost certainly extend to newly pressed recruits unless the Kremlin waits several months before deploying them on the front line in Ukraine.

  • Muslim clerics are urging Uzbeks not to join Russia’s war in Ukraine, warning that to do so would be against the Islamic faith. The statement by the Muslim board in Uzbekistan, Uzbekistan’s top religious authority, came after Russia offered fast-track citizenship to foreigners who sign up to join its army. Uzbekistan’s state prosecutors have warned its citizens that those fighting in military conflicts abroad face criminal prosecution under Uzbek law.

  • China’s foreign minister Wang Yi has told his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba that the “sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries must be respected”. The meeting between Wang and Kuleba took place on the sidelines of the UN general assembly in New York, and was the first since Russia invaded Ukraine. Kuleba said Wang had “reaffirmed China’s respect for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

Hello, it’s Léonie Chao-Fong still here with all the latest news from Ukraine. I’m on Twitter or you can email me.

Muslim clerics are urging Uzbeks not to join Russia’s war in Ukraine, warning that to do so would be against the Islamic faith.

Members of some “terrorist organisations” were attempting to recruit Muslims to fight in the conflict in Ukraine under the pretext of “jihad” or holy war, the Muslim board in Uzbekistan said.

But in reality, it was not permissible for a Muslim to participate in any military action except to defend their homeland, it said.

The statement by Uzbekistan’s top religious authority came after Russia offered fast-track citizenship to foreigners who sign up to join its army, part of a broader drive to strengthen its military.

Uzbekistan’s state prosecutors have warned its citizens not to join foreign armies, saying that those fighting in military conflicts abroad face criminal prosecution under Uzbek law.

A video circulated on social media earlier this month showed two Uzbeks captured in fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces. The detainees said they were recruited in Moscow.

The United Nations has said its investigators have concluded that Russia committed war crimes in Ukraine, including bombings of civilian areas, numerous executions, torture and horrific sexual violence.

The UN has made the investigation of human rights violations in the war a priority and in May its top human rights body mandated a team of experts to begin work in the country.

Members of an international team of war crimes prosecutors visit a mass grave in Bucha, Ukraine, in April. Investigators found mass graves in the city, where the bodies of civilians, tortured and murdered, had been buried.

Since then, UN investigators, have risked their own lives to collect evidence of crimes perpetrated against civilians, including in areas still threatened by enemy forces or laid with mines.

The team of three independent experts on Friday presented their first oral update to the UN human rights council, after it launched initial investigations looking at the areas of Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy regions, adding that it would broaden its inquiries.

The team of investigators visited 27 towns and settlements, as well as graves and detention and torture centres; interviewed more than 150 victims and witnesses; and met with advocacy groups and government officials.

Read the full story here:

Pjotr Sauer and Dan Sabbagh report for the Guardian on the exodus of young men from Russia:

Long lines of vehicles continue to form at Russia’s border crossings on the second day full day of Vladimir Putin’s military mobilisation, with some men waiting over 24 hours as western leaders disagree over whether Europe should welcome those fleeing the call-up to fight in Ukraine.

The Russian president’s decision to announce the first mobilisation since the second world war has led to a rush among men of military age to leave the country, likely sparking a new, possibly unprecedented brain drain in the coming days and weeks.

Witnesses on the border with Georgia, a popular route used by Russians to leave the country, said that some men resorted to using bicycles and scooters to skip the miles-long queue of traffic jams.

Footage from the scene circulating on social media appears to confirm these reports.

“I have been waiting in my car since Thursday afternoon,” said Anton, who declined to give his surname fearing it might complicate his travel. “Everyone is worried that the border will be closed by the time we get anywhere close to it,” he added.

Routes out of Russia

Usually sleepy border crossings into Kazakhstan and Mongolia have also been overwhelmed by the sudden influx of Russians looking for a way out.

Russian international borders remain open for now, but there are widespread fears Putin will impose martial law next week in an effort to prevent a further outflow of men from leaving the country.

Read more of Pjotr Sauer and Dan Sabbagh’s report here: Border queues build as people flee Russia to escape Putin’s call-up

Roman Starovoyt, the governor of Russia’s Kursk region, has announced extra payments for people from his region who are mobilising to fight in Ukraine.

He opens his message on Telegram:

The first groups of mobilised [soldiers] from the Kursk region are sent to replenish the ranks of the Russian army. I instructed to prepare additional support measures for our fighters in addition to federal payments.

He then goes on to detail a series of regular additional payments, before concluding:

Some of the necessary documents have already been signed, the rest I instructed to prepare as soon as possible. Payments will also be received by those Kursk people who have already signed contracts or have been mobilised.

The Kursk region borders the north-east of Ukraine.

This is from Dan Sabbagh, the Guardian’s defence and security editor:

Western officials believe that Russia “will face major challenges” to mobilise 300,000 more people to its armed forces and that the country’s military will struggle to train and equip any new recruits unless the Kremlin waits several months before deploying them on the front line in Ukraine.

The intelligence experts acknowledged that the true recruitment target could be higher, but although some reports have suggested the Kremlin’s real goal is to mobilise 1million, the officials reiterated in a briefing on Friday that it was their belief it will be very hard for Russia to reach 300,000, never mind any larger figure.

When pressed, one official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that 300,000 was “an immense number of people to then try to get in any sense of semblance to be able to fight in Ukraine”. The official added: “The authorities will face major challenges even in mustering this number of personnel.”

Russia has faced problems with training and equipment throughout the conflict so far, and the officials said that would almost certainly extend to newly pressed recruits. “We think that they will be very challenged in training, let alone equipping such a large force quickly,” the official said. Recruits will likely be issued “old stuff and unreliable equipment,” they said.

Western officials believe there was a clear regional bias in Russian recruitment, focusing on poor and minority areas in the country’s east – and avoiding the country’s middle class urban centres. “We are not as yet seeing at the moment, recruiting teams in St. Petersburg or Moscow,” an official said.

Western officials are not keen to engage particularly with recent nuclear threats issued by Vladimir Putin, but they did say they believed that it was not necessarily the case that any Ukrainian territory annexed in the coming days through so-called referendums and weeks would be deemed as covered by its nuclear umbrella.

“Russian red lines are not necessarily where they say they are,” the official said, and that “there are parts of the territory that Russia now controls which are of greater strategic significance to Moscow than others”. Although the locations were not spelled out, the Kremlin has long placed a high value on Crimea as well as the parts of Donetsk and Luhansk provinces occupied since 2014.