Winter’s approach sets clock ticking for Ukraine, Russia

Sep 25, 2022, 3:34 AM | Updated: 3:41 am
Police officers detain a demonstrator during a protest against a partial mobilization in Moscow, Ru...

Police officers detain a demonstrator during a protest against a partial mobilization in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022. (AP Photo)

(AP Photo)

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The onset of autumnal weather, with rains making fields too muddy for tanks, is beginning to cloud Ukraine’s efforts to take back more Russian-held territory before winter freezes the battlefields, a Washington-based think tank said Sunday.

Russia, meanwhile, pressed on with its call-up of hundreds of thousands of men to throw into the seven-month war, seeking to reverse its recent losses. It also deployed suicide drones Sunday against the Ukrainian port city of Odesa, Ukrainian authorities said. No casualties were immediately reported.

The Russian mobilization — its first such call-up since World War II — is sparking protests in Russian cities, with fresh demonstrations Sunday.

It is also opening splits in Europe about whether fighting-age Russian men fleeing in droves should be welcomed or turned away.

For Ukrainian and Russian military planners, the clock is ticking, with the approach of winter expected to make fighting more complicated. Already, rainy weather is bringing muddy conditions that are starting to limit the mobility of tanks and other heavy weaponry, according to the Institute for the Study of War.

But the think tank said Ukrainian forces are still gaining ground in their counteroffensive, launched in late August, that has spectacularly rolled back the Russian occupation across large areas of the northeast and which also prompted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s new drive for reinforcements.

The partial mobilization has triggered an exodus of men seeking to avoid the draft — and sharp differences of opinion in Europe about how to deal with them.

Lithuania, a European Union member-country that borders Kaliningrad, a Russian Baltic Sea exclave, said it won’t grant them asylum. “Russians should stay and fight. Against Putin,” Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis tweeted.

His counterpart in Latvia, also an EU member and bordering Russia, said the exodus poses “considerable security risks” for the 27-nation bloc and that those fleeing can’t be considered conscientious objectors against the invasion.

Many “were fine with killing Ukrainians, they did not protest then,” the Latvian foreign minister, Edgars Rinkevics, tweeted. He added that they have “plenty of countries outside EU to go.”

Officials in other EU nations, however, say Europe has a duty to help, and fear that turning away Russians could play into Putin’s hands, feeding his narrative that the West has always hated Russians and that the war is being waged to safeguard their country against Western hostility.

“Closing our frontiers would fit neither with our values nor our interests,” a 40-strong group of senators in France said in a statement. They urged the EU to grant refugee status to Russians fleeing mobilization and said turning them away would be “a mistake by Europe in the war of communication and influence that is playing out.”

The mobilization is also running hand-in-hand with Kremlin-orchestrated votes in four occupied regions of Ukraine that could pave the way for their imminent annexation by Russia.

Ukraine and its Western allies say the referendums in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south and the eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions have no legal force. The votes are set to wrap up Tuesday but are being dismissed in Ukraine and the West as a sham, with footage showing armed Russian troops going door to door to pressure Ukrainians into voting.

Ukraine’s Reintegration Ministry said Russia has brought people from Belarus, Brazil, Egypt, South Africa, Syria, Togo, Uruguay and Venezuela to act as supposed outside observers. The ministry warned that they “will be punished,” without specifying how.

In cities across Russia, police have arrested hundreds of protesters against the mobilization order. Women opposed to the call-up protested Sunday in the Siberian city of Yakutsk. Videos shared by local media showed a crowd of a few hundred people, mostly women, holding hands and marching in a circle around a group of police. Police later dragged some away or forced them into police vans. News website SakhaDay said the women chanted pacifist slogans and songs.

At least 2,000 people have been arrested in recent days for similar demonstrations around the country. Many of those taken away immediately received call-up summons.

Other Russians are reporting for duty. Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu have said the order applies to reservists who recently served or have special skills, but almost every man is considered a reservist until age 65 and Putin’s decree kept the door open for a broader call-up.

The Kremlin said its initial aim is to add about 300,000 troops to its forces in Ukraine, struggling with equipment losses, mounting casualties and weakening morale. The mobilization marks a sharp shift from Putin’s previous efforts to portray the war as a limited military operation that wouldn’t interfere with most Russians’ lives.

The call-up is being accompanied by tougher punishments for Russian soldiers who disobey officers’ orders, desert or surrender to the enemy. Putin signed those measures into law on Saturday.

The Ukrainian government stopped allowing most men ages 18-60 to leave the country immediately after Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion under a general mobilization order intended to build a 1 million-strong military.

___

Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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              A woman who lives in Russia, from the Donetsk region, the territory controlled by a pro-Russia separatist government, holds her ballot during a referendum at a temporary accommodation facility in the Novocherkassk, Rostov-on-Don region of Russia, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022. Voting began Friday in four Moscow-held regions of Ukraine on referendums to become part of Russia. Polls also opened in Russia, where refugees from regions under Russian control can cast their votes. (AP Photo)
            
              People traveling from Russia in cars and coaches queue to cross the border to Finland at the Vaalimaa border check point in Virolahti, Finland, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022. Military-aged men fled Russia in droves Friday, filling planes and causing traffic jams at border crossings to avoid being rounded up to fight in Ukraine following the Kremlin's partial military mobilization. (Jussi Nukari./Lehtikuva via AP)
            
              Civilians look on during a military training session by the Right Sector close to Lviv, Ukraine, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Mykola Tys)
            
              Civilians take part in a military training session by the Right Sector close to Lviv, Ukraine, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Mykola Tys)
            
              People vote at a mobile polling station during a referendum in Mariupol, Donetsk People's Republic, controlled by Russia-backed separatists, in eastern Ukraine, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022. Voting began Friday in four Moscow-held regions of Ukraine on referendums to become part of Russia. Polls also opened in Russia, where refugees from regions under Russian control can cast their votes. (AP Photo)
            
              Soldiers carry the coffin of their comrade, Ukrainian military officer Volodumur Linsky, who was killed in a battle against Russian troops, in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Andriy Andriyenko)
            
              Russian policemen detain a demonstrator protesting against mobilization in St. Petersburg, Russia, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022. (AP Photo)
            
              Russian policemen detain a demonstrator protesting against mobilization in St. Petersburg, Russia, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022.  (AP Photo)
            
              Police officers detain a demonstrator during a protest against a partial mobilization in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022. (AP Photo)
            
              A Police officer detains a demonstrator during a protest against a partial mobilization in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022. (AP Photo)
            
              Police officers detain a demonstrator during a protest against a partial mobilization in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022. (AP Photo)
            
              Foreign Minister of Russia Sergey Lavrov addresses the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022 at U.N. headquarters. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
            
              Passengers get off a coach from St. Petersburg, Russia, at the Helsinki Airport in Vantaa, Finland, Saturday Sept. 24, 2022. Finland border guards said Friday that the number of people entering from Russia has climbed sharply, with media reporting a 107% increase compared with last week. (Jussi Nukari/Lehtikuva via AP)
            
              A Russian recruit and his wife kiss and hug each other outside a military recruitment center in Volgograd, Russia, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered a partial mobilization of reservists to beef up his forces in Ukraine. (AP Photo)
            
              A Russian officer checks the temperature of recruits as they lineup to be registered at a military recruitment center in Volgograd, Russia, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered a partial mobilization of reservists to beef up his forces in Ukraine. (AP Photo)
            
              Russian recruits sit inside a bus near a military recruitment center in Volgograd, Russia, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered a partial mobilization of reservists to beef up his forces in Ukraine. (AP Photo)
            
              Russian recruits walk past a military recruitment center in Volgograd, Russia, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered a partial mobilization of reservists to beef up his forces in Ukraine. (AP Photo)
            
              A relative attends a mourning ceremony for Alexei Nogin, who was killed in combat in Ukraine, in Volgograd, Russia, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022. Nogin was posthumously awarded with the Hero of Russia medal for fighting in Ukraine. (AP Photo)
            
              Residents of Mariupol hold a rally against a Kremlin-orchestrated referendum in Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022. Banner reads: "Mariupol is Ukraine". Voting began Friday in four Moscow-held regions of Ukraine on referendums to become part of Russia. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
            
              A Russian Orthodox priest blesses a group of recruits at a military recruitment center in Volgograd, Russia, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered a partial mobilization of reservists to beef up his forces in Ukraine. (AP Photo)
            
              Two men pose for a photo in front of motorcade organized to support voting in a referendum in Luhansk, eastern Ukraine, Friday, Sept. 23, 2022. Voting began Friday in four Moscow-held regions of Ukraine on referendums to become part of Russia. (AP Photo)

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Winter’s approach sets clock ticking for Ukraine, Russia