This is the moment an uncomfortable-looking Vladimir Putin squirmed in his seat as he was forced to endure a bizarre lecture on people fleeing his rule from fellow autocrat Alexander Lukashenko.
The Belarusian president – who needed Putin’s help to crush a pro-Western democratic movement in his country in 2020 – assured the Kremlin leader he would win his war in Ukraine, despite the growing unrest over his decision to mobilise 300,000 new troops.
The Kremlin chief looked hunched and uncomfortable, saying little during the meeting in Sochi as Russians continue to protest his mobilisation edict or flee abroad to avoid being drafted.
‘Our course is right, our cause is right,’ Lukashenko told Putin, bringing a rare smile to the Russian warmonger’s lips.
‘We will win. We have no other choice. We, as Slavs, would not tolerate humiliation,’ Lukashenko told him.
The Belarusian leaders bombastic speech belied the situation on the ground though.
The call for mobilisation has proved wildly unpopular, with hundreds of thousands of Russian men having already fled the country to avoid the call up.
Outbound flights from Russia are completely sold out, and traffic jams leading to Russia’s borders are so big they can be seen from space.
Anti-war protests have erupted across the country, and Russian media reported an increasing number of arson attacks on military enlistment offices. Yesterday, an enlistment officer was shot at almost point blank range by a man who refused to be drafted.
Alexander Lukashenko (R) shakes hands with Vladimir Putin at a meeting in Sochi, Russia
Belarusian president Lukashenko (L) – who needed Putin’s help to crush a pro-Western democratic movement in his country in 2020 – assured the Kremlin leader he would win his war in Ukraine
A satellite image shows trucks and cars waiting in a traffic jam near Russia’s border with Georgia as Russians desperately try to flee the country, September 25, 2022
A satellite image shows traffic at the Khyagt border post on Russia’s border with Mongolia, September 23, 2022
Lukashenko continued monologuing in Sochi yesterday, spouting rhetorical questions as Putin sat silently, squirming uncomfortably beside him.
‘Let’s say 30,000 or 50,000 [people] run away. If they were to stay, would they be our people?’ the Belarusian president said.
‘Let them run away. I don’t know what you think about it, but I wasn’t worried too much in 2020 when people left [Belarus after protests over his vote-rigging].
‘They [later] ask to let them in. So these ones will also come back.
‘But there’s a decision needed: what to do with them? Let them come back or stay there?’
While Lukashenko and Putin shared a chat in Sochi yesterday, a young conscript shot a Russian military officer at close range at an enlistment office in an unusually bold attack reflecting resistance to mobilisation efforts.
The shooting came after scattered arson attacks on enlistment offices and protests in Russian cities against the military call up that have resulted in at least 2,000 arrests.
In the attack in the Siberian city of Ust-Ilimsk, 25-year-old resident Ruslan Zinin walked into the enlistment office saying ‘no one will go to fight’ and ‘we will all go home now,’ according to local media.
A witness quoted by a local news site said Zinin was in a roomful of people called up to fight and troops from his region were heading to military bases on Tuesday.
This is the moment gunman Ruslan Zinin, 25 walked into a Russian enlistment office in Ust-Ilimsk and shot military commissar Alexander Eliseev
Gunman Ruslan Zinin, 25, said he shot the officer in anger amid calls to mobilise
Footage of the incident showed how Zinin strode into the office and blasted the official before being arrested and forced to testify to the crime on camera, which he did willingly.
Authorities said the military commandant was in intensive care.
Protests also flared up in Dagestan, one of Russia’s poorer regions in the North Caucasus.
Local media reported that ‘several hundred’ demonstrators took to the streets Tuesday in its capital, Makhachkala.
Videos circulated online showing dozens of protesters tussling with the police sent to disperse them.
Demonstrations also continued in another of Russia’s North Caucasus republics, Kabardino-Balkaria, where videos on social media showed a local official attempting to address a crowd of women who banded together to chant ‘No to war!’
Protests have also erupted across Russia in fury at Putin’s decision to begin conscription, with some 2,000 people arrested so far
Concerns are growing that Russia may seek to escalate the conflict – including potentially using nuclear weapons – once it completes what Ukraine and the West see as illegal referendums in occupied parts of Ukraine.
The voting, in which residents are asked whether they want their regions to become part of Russia, began last week and ends Tuesday, under conditions that are anything but free or fair.
Tens of thousands of residents had already fled the regions amid months of fighting, and images shared by those who remained showed armed Russian troops going door-to-door to pressure Ukrainians into voting.
‘Every night and day there is inevitable shelling in the Donbas, under the roar of which people are forced to vote for Russian ”peace”,’ Donetsk regional governor Pavlo Kirilenko said Monday.
Russia is widely expected to declare the results in its favour, a step that could see Moscow annex the four regions and then defend them as its own territory.