September 23, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Amy Woodyatt, Christian Edwards, Hannah Strange, Aditi Sangal and Adrienne Vogt, CNN

Updated 9:32 p.m. ET, September 23, 2022
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2:08 a.m. ET, September 23, 2022

Anti-war protesters have been arrested and conscripted directly into the military, according to a monitoring group

From CNN's Simone McCarthy, Matthew Chance, Tim Lister, Anna Chernova and Mick Krever

Riot police detain a demonstrator during a protest against mobilization in Moscow, Russia, on September 21.
Riot police detain a demonstrator during a protest against mobilization in Moscow, Russia, on September 21. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)

After Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a "partial mobilization" of citizens for his faltering invasion of Ukraine, at least 1,300 people were detained across Russia on Wednesday for participating in nationwide anti-war protests -- with some directly conscripted into the military, according to a monitoring group.

Images and videos show police cracking down on demonstrators in multiple cities, with footage showing several protesters at a demonstration in central Moscow being carried away by the police and authorities in St. Petersburg attempting to contain a crowd chanting "no mobilization" outside Isakiivskiy Cathedral.

Police detained the protesters across 38 cities in Russia on Wednesday, according to figures released shortly after midnight by independent monitoring group OVD-Info. The group's spokeswoman Maria Kuznetsova told CNN by phone that at at least four police stations in Moscow, some of the protesters arrested by riot police were being drafted directly into Russia's military.

One of the detainees has been threatened with prosecution for refusing to be drafted, she said. The government has said that punishment for refusing the draft is now 15 years in jail. Of the more than 1,300 people detained nationwide, more than 500 were in Moscow and more than 520 in St. Petersburg, according to OVD-Info.

Just over half the detained protesters whose names were made public are women, OVD-Info also said, making it the biggest anti-government protest by share of women in recent history. The watchdog specified the full scale of the arrests remains unknown, however.

Nine journalists and 33 minors are also among the detained, it said, adding that one of the minors was "brutally beaten" by law enforcement.

1:59 a.m. ET, September 23, 2022

Long lines of traffic at some of Russia's land borders 

From CNN's Tim Lister, Clare Sebastian, Uliana Pavlova and Anastasia Graham-Yooll

Lines of cars are seen at the Zemo Larsi/Verkhny Lars checkpoint on the Russia-Georgia border on September 21.
Lines of cars are seen at the Zemo Larsi/Verkhny Lars checkpoint on the Russia-Georgia border on September 21. (RFE/RL's Georgian Service/Reuters)

Social media video from Russia's land borders with several countries shows long lines of traffic trying to leave the country on the day after President Vladimir Putin announced a "partial mobilization."

There were queues at border crossings into Kazakhstan, Georgia and Mongolia. One video showed dozens of vehicles lining up at the Zemo Larsi/Verkhny Lars checkpoint on the Georgia-Russia border overnight Wednesday. That line appears to have grown longer Thursday. One video showed a long queue stretching into the mountains behind the crossing, with a man commenting that it was five to six kilometers long.

Another posted Thursday showed long lines at the Khaykhta crossing into Mongolia.

One man spoke over video recorded at the Troitsk crossing into Kazakhstan, where dozens of cars were lined up Thursday morning. "This is Troitsk, queues of trucks and passenger vehicles ... you can't see the start or the end of this queue ... everyone, everyone is fleeing Russia, all sorts."

A senior Kazakh official, Maulen Ashimbaev, had said Kazakhstan could not restrict the entry of Russian citizens into the country, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported earlier Thursday. But Ashimbaev, the speaker of the upper house of the Kazakh parliament, said that in order to obtain a residence permit, applicants must have a set of documents that comply with the law.

It is difficult to compare the current flow of traffic to the average in the absence of official data.

Flights from Russia to countries that do not require visas continue to be very busy and frequently sold out. A search on the Aviasales website showed there were no seats available on Moscow-Istanbul one-way economy flights until Sunday — with the lowest price almost $2,900.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov on Thursday dismissed reports of airports crowded with people trying to leave Russia following the announcement, calling it "exaggeration" and "fake news."

12:06 a.m. ET, September 23, 2022

Russia's military divided as Putin struggles to deal with Ukraine's counter-offensive, US sources say

From CNN's Katie Bo Lillis

Russia's military is divided over how best to counter Ukraine's unexpected battlefield advances this month, according to multiple sources familiar with US intelligence, as Moscow has found itself on the defensive in both the east and the south.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is himself giving directions directly to generals in the field, two sources familiar with US and western intelligence said-- a highly unusual management tactic in a modern military that these sources said hints at the dysfunctional command structure that has plagued Russia's war from the beginning.

Intelligence intercepts have captured Russian officers arguing among themselves and complaining to friends and relatives back home about decision-making from Moscow, one of these sources told CNN. 

And there are significant disagreements on strategy with military leaders struggling to agree on where to focus their efforts to shore up defensive lines, multiple sources familiar with US intelligence said.

The Russian Ministry of Defense has claimed that it is redeploying forces toward Kharkiv in the northeast -- where Ukraine has made the most dramatic gains -- but US and western sources say the bulk of Russian troops still remain in the south, where Ukraine has also mounted offensive operations around Kherson.

Some background: Putin announced a partial mobilization on Wednesday that is expected to include the call-up of up to 300,000 reservists. He has for months resisted taking that step and Biden administration officials said Wednesday that the fact he has moved to do so now highlights the severity of Russia's manpower shortages and signals a growing desperation. 

It's not clear that the mobilization will make any operational difference on the battlefield, or merely prolong the length of the war without changing the outcome, according to Russian military analysts.