MOSCOW — Russian police acted quickly on Saturday to break up peaceful protests against President Vladimir Putin’s military mobilization order, arresting hundreds of people, including children, in several cities across the vast country.
Police arrested more than 700 people, including more than 300 in Moscow and nearly 150 in St. Petersburg, according to OVD-Info, an independent website that monitors political arrests in Russia. Some of those arrested were minors, OVD-Info said.
The protests followed demonstrations that erupted hours on Wednesday after Putin, in a bid to bolster his volunteer forces fighting in Ukraine, announced a call for experienced and qualified army reservists.
The Ministry of Defense said around 300,000 people would be called up for active duty, but the order left the door open for many more people called up for service. Most Russian men between the ages of 18 and 65 are automatically counted as reservists.
On Saturday, police deployed in force in towns where protests were planned by the opposition group Vesna and supporters of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny. They moved quickly to arrest the protesters, mostly young people, before they could stage demonstrations.
In Moscow, a large contingent of police scoured a city center where a protest was planned and checked the IDs of passers-by. Officers rounded up those they deemed suspicious.
A young woman climbed onto a bench and shouted “We are not cannon fodder! before the police take him away.
In Saint Petersburg, small groups of demonstrators managed to gather and shout protest slogans before being arrested.
In the eastern Siberian city of Novosibirsk, more than 70 people have been arrested after singing an innocuous Soviet-era song praising peace.
In another Siberian city, Irkutsk, police handed out summonses to military conscription offices to men who had taken part in a protest.
People who tried to hold individual pickets authorized by Russian law were also arrested.
The swift police action followed the dispersal of protests on Wednesday, when more than 1,300 people were arrested in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other cities on Wednesday.
Putin on Saturday signed a hastily approved bill that toughens the penalty for soldiers who disobey officers’ orders, desert or surrender to the enemy.