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Winter Clock Ticking for Ukraine,Russia09/25 08:13


   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. 
Without control of the skies over Ukraine, Russia is also making increasing use 
of suicide drones, with more strikes reported Sunday in the Black Sea port city 
of Odesa.

   The Russian mobilization -- its first such call-up since World War II -- is 
sparking protests in Russia, with fresh demonstrations Sunday. In Dagestan, one 
of Russia's poorer regions in the North Caucasus, police fired warning shots to 
try to disperse more than 100 people who blocked a highway while protesting the 
call-up, Russian media reported.

   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 in recent days 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."

   Finland also said it intends to "significantly restrict" entry to Russians 
entering the EU through its border with Russia. A Finnish opposition leader, 
Petteri Orpo, also said fleeing Russian military reservists are an "obvious" 
security risk and "we must put our national security first."

   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.

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