MOSCOW: Moscow will not give out passports to Russians mobilised by the army, a government information portal said on Wednesday, as fears of travel restrictions rise and tens of thousands flee the country.
"If a citizen is summoned for army service or received a summons (for mobilisation), he will be refused a passport," the government website said. It added that those who are not issued a passport will be notified how long the hold will be in place.
Since President Vladimir Putin announced a mobilisation to prop up the Russian army in Ukraine, tens of thousands have crossed into neighbouring countries to evade the draft. Many have feared that men of military age would be barred from leaving the country, with reports that some have already been turned away.
Only a minority of Russians hold a passport that allows them to leave the country. Russia also has a system of "internal passports" -- a document used as a form of ID and accepted in some of Russia’s ex-Soviet neighbours.
The portal did not mention restrictions on the handout of those documents. Russians can travel to Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan -- where many have fled to since Putin announced mobilisation -- on internal passports.Meanwhile, the Kremlin said on Wednesday its "special military operation" in Ukraine must continue at least until the capture of all of east Ukraine's Donetsk region.
In a call with reporters, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov noted that the self-styled Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) - a breakaway Russian-backed entity that has been fighting Ukrainian forces since 2014 - controls only part of the wider territory which it claims.
"Therefore it is necessary, as a minimum, to liberate the entire territory of the DPR,", he said. Russia has framed its military campaign in Ukraine as necessary to protect Russian-speakers in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region, of which Donetsk makes up half, from "genocide" by Ukraine. Both Kyiv and Western countries say this is a figleaf for an imperial-style land grab.
Though Russia already controls almost all of Luhansk region, the other half of the Donbas, it holds only around 60 per cent of Donetsk region. The Moscow-backed entities in Donetsk and Luhansk, alongside two other Russian-occupied regions in southern Ukraine - Kherson and Zaporizhzhia - are seeking to become part of Russia after they completed on Tuesday what Kyiv and Western governments described as sham referendums on joining Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to proclaim the annexation in a speech on Friday, just over a week since he endorsed the referendums, ordered a military mobilisation at home and threatened to defend Russia's claims with nuclear weapons.
"The results are clear. Welcome home, to Russia!" Dmitry Medvedev, a former president who serves as deputy chairman of Russia's Security Council, said on Telegram, after the release of the results.
Residents who escaped to Ukrainian-held territory in recent days have told of people being forced to tick ballots in the street by roving officials at gunpoint. Footage filmed during the exercise showed Russian-installed officials taking ballot boxes from house to house with armed men in tow.
Russia says voting was voluntary and turn-out was high. Meanwhile, Moscow was poised on Wednesday to annex a swathe of Ukraine, releasing what it called vote tallies showing support in four partially occupied provinces to join Russia, after what Kyiv and the West denounced as illegal sham referendums held at gunpoint.
On Moscow’s Red Square, a tribune with giant video screens has been set up, with billboards proclaiming “Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, Kherson – Russia!”President Vladimir Putin could proclaim the annexation in a speech within days, just over a week since he endorsed the referendums, ordered a military mobilisation at home and threatened to defend Russia with nuclear weapons if necessary.