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Russia's military draft descends into workplace raids, demoralizing 'fratricide' attacks at training bases

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday that his unpopular military mobilization effort had already pressed 220,000 men into service, sent 16,000 of them to the Ukraine front, and would be completed within two weeks. Reports are flooding social media of Russian troops having to buy their own armor and arriving at the front line with little to no training. 

At least six newly drafted conscripts have already been confirmed dead from Ukraine combat — five soldiers from the Chelyabinsk region and an official in the Moscow government — but the number is almost certainly higher. And at least 11 "volunteer" soldiers were killed and 15 others wounded by two gunmen at a military training base in Russia's Belgorod region on Saturday, Russian media reported. 

Russia's Ministry of Defense called the shooting "a terrorist act" by "two terrorists" who were "killed by return fire," but retired U.S. Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling speculated it was "a major fratricide by soldiers against other Russian soldiers" at the base. "When you have that kind of a fratricide," Hertling told CNN, "that creates some real problems within morale as a force — as if Russia didn't have enough morale problems."

More than 300,000 men and their family members have fled Russia since Putin announced the draft, and more say they are considering trying to leave as Russian police and military officers raid office buildings, factories, restaurants and cafes, homeless shelters, and the streets to round up men for conscription, The Washington Post reported Sunday. "The press-gangs appear to descend at random. It is terrifying — and, at times, comically haphazard."

Russian men of fighting age are now being turned back when trying to cross the border. A 31-year-old Russian named Sergey told the BBC about his harrowing escape by bike, including paying a $79 bribe to avoid being turned over to a mobilization center at the border.

Russia, losing troops to better trained and more motivated Ukrainian forces, does need more fighters at the front, but even war proponents have taken to criticizing how the mobilization effort has been carried out, the Post reports. "The raids in Moscow and St. Petersburg have been deeply controversial, in part because the cities have suffered comparatively few casualties in Ukraine. The burden of fighting has largely been borne by small ethnic groups and poorly educated men from impoverished rural regions."