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Get out of Russia is the US Embassy’s warning to Americans.
It’s not the first such warning for Americans abroad, but it came with new urgency as Russian President Vladimir Putin looks for bodies to fight his war on Ukraine.
“Russia may refuse to acknowledge dual nationals’ US citizenship, deny their access to US consular assistance, prevent their departure from Russia, and conscript dual nationals for military service,” the alert said.
Americans used to an open society should be very careful in Russia, according to the embassy, which cautions that “the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression are not guaranteed in Russia.”
The warning comes as, at one border checkpoint, eligible Russian men trying to flee the country will be met with conscription papers.
Leaking pipelines. Sabotage suspected.
Meanwhile, Western leaders suspect sabotage in reported leaks discovered in the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipeline into the Baltic Sea.
Should have known. The warning this summer from the US to its European allies, including Germany, that the Nord Stream pipelines could face threats or be attacked now appear prophetic. Read more from CNN’s Natasha Bertrand and Katie Bo Lillis.
The pipelines, which were built to deliver Russian gas to Europe, have been flashpoints in the energy war between the European Union and Russia.
Western countries suspect sabotage and CNN’s report noted that “seismologists detected underwater explosions near the pipelines on Monday, but it’s unclear if those are connected to the leaks.”
Who is facing conscription?
While there is some mystery around the pipeline situation, there is hard evidence that the military call-up is reverberating around Russia.
Watch this video report from CNN’s Matthew Chance. It shows buses taking conscripts in the middle of the night as wives and mothers wail in the background. He shows images from Dagestan, in southern Russia. Rights groups told Chance that ethnic minorities from remote regions are being targeted by the callup.
Dagestan is a majority Muslim area and CNN also has a report on protests that have sprung up there.
A social contract broken
The best thing I’ve read in recent days about the situation in Russia comes from CNN’s Nathan Hodge.
He wrote in an analysis that there was essentially a social contract between Putin and Russians. Putin provided stability and Russian voters would stay out of politics.
That social contract may be broken, he argued, pointing to miles-long lines of fleeing Russians at the border, protests in the country documented on social media and the unmasking of the poorly outfitted Russian military.
It was anger at the first Chechen War, which featured unpopular conscription, that brought Putin into power. Hodge noted that Putin was supposed to professionalize the military, but the contemporary images of chaos and protest feel more like the unruly post-Soviet period.
Hodge: Recent protests against Putin’s partial mobilization are a reminder that the draft remains a third rail in Russian political life. In heated protests against the mobilization Sunday in Makhachkala, the regional capital of the north Caucasus region of Dagestan, women were captured in social media videos confronting police, saying, “Why are you taking our children? Who attacked who? It’s Russia that attacked Ukraine!”
There’s a question, however, about whether the anger will be focused on local officials rather than Putin.
More Hodge: It’s reminiscent of an old trope from Russian history of the “good tsar” and “bad boyars.” The tsar – in this case, Putin – is seen popularly as a wise, munificent (albeit distant) ruler, while his conniving local subordinates and lower-level functionaries are to blame for undermining his good intentions. They, not the ruler, are the targets of popular anger.
Sham referendums make Russia view occupied territory as its own
Now that pro-Russian authorities in four Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine have staged sham referendums – the Ukraine and western governments have said they are illegal and the votes are unreliable – Putin could now view occupied parts of Ukraine as Russia.
The overwhelming votes in support of joining Russia defies belief, particularly after a pre-war poll conducted exclusively by CNN found just 18% of Ukrainians in the East, including the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, felt Ukraine and Russia should be one country. CNN’s Rob Picheta wrote that there are reports some of the voting was done literally at gunpoint.
He added that Ukraine fears Russia will now begin conscripting Ukrainians from those regions into the Russian military. Read the full story.
Nuclear threat is ‘elevated,’ but it’s still unlikely Putin will go there
Stuck in a corner of his own making, the US is growing more concerned that Putin will get more unconventional in his warfare and resort to some kind of tactical nuclear strike.
Tough talk and threats from Putin last week have the US more concerned that Putin could resort to such action, but Lillis and Bertrand wrote in another report that US defense officials see “no indication at this time of Russia moving nuclear weapons around.” And, yes, the US believes it could detect the movement of small tactical warheads.
“Officials have long believed that Putin would only turn to a nuclear weapon if there was a threat to his own position, or if he perceived an existential threat to Russia itself – which he may consider a loss in Ukraine to be,” Lillis and Bertrand wrote.
The most likely nuclear scenario
CNN Opinion talked to former British army officer and former commander of the UK & NATO Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Forces, Hamish de Bretton-Gordon about what a nuclear situation might look like.
He explained the difference between strategic nuclear weapons large missiles – “Armageddon”– and tactical nukes, smaller warheads that can still create a lot of damage and, if fired at a nuclear power station, contamination. Read the full interview.
The vehicles these tactical weapons are mounted on are likely in poor condition, de Bretton-Gordon said, and may even be unusable.
De Bretton-Gordon: The most likely nuclear scenario is, I believe, an attack by Russia on a nuclear power station in Ukraine. This could have a similar effect to a tactical nuclear explosion but would be easier to deny for the Russians, who accuse Ukraine of deliberately bombing their own power stations.
He also pointed out that under Putin, local Russian commanders could conceivably use such weapons to defend the Russian homeland, and Russia is in the process of claiming occupied portions of Ukraine as its own.
It’s still unlikely Putin would cross the red line of nuclear action, but de Bretton-Gordon argued the West and NATO should “call Putin’s bluff” now and engineer negotiations while Putin is weak and Russia is reeling.