- Many Russians are trying to flee the country after Putin declared partial military mobilization.
- Plane tickets have sold out or skyrocketed in price, and land border crossings are seeing increased traffic.
- Russian lawmakers also passed legislation saying soldiers who desert could face 10 years in jail.
Many Russians, desperate to avoid being sent to war in Ukraine after President Vladimir Putin announced the “partial mobilization” of the country’s military reservists, are trying to flee the country.
In trying to avoid deployment, fleeing Russians are facing traffic jams at border crossings and plane tickets that are either incredibly expensive or simply sold out. Google searches for the Russian phrase “how to leave Russia” surged within the country, peaking at around 6 p.m. local time in Moscow.
Some plane tickets for one-way flights from Russia to Russian-visa-friendly countries — like Turkey and Georgia — have sold out, while others have outrageous costs. Aviasales, a popular Russian website used to purchase flights, has seen a tremendous spike in searches.
A visual from flight tracking site Flightradar24 shows the flight paths of planes departing from three airports in Moscow and one in St. Petersburg on Wednesday, four airports which make up all of Russia’s top-four busiest airports. Planes — many from Turkish Airlines and Russian charter service Azur Air — could be seen going to cities like Istanbul, Turkey, Baku, Azerbaijan, and Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
—Flightradar24 (@flightradar24) September 21, 2022
“Incoming traffic at the eastern border increased during the night,” Finland’s border guard said in a Wednesday statement. “Traffic has increased compared to previous weeks, but the amount is still small compared to the time before the pandemic. Our resources are sufficient and the situation is under the control.”
On top of all this, Russia’s lower house of parliament passed legislation this week that said soldiers who desert their units could face up to 10 years in jail — a five-year increase from previous punishments. The bill also includes language indicating this stiff penalty could be applied to draft dodgers as well.
Putin’s decision to declare a mobilization — calling up 300,000 reservists with the possibility of further mobilization on the table — was a politically risky move that has already seen Russians taking to the streets to express their opposition, even at a time when criticizing the war could result in up to 15 years behind bars.
More than 1,400 were arrested in anti-war demonstrations across Russia on Wednesday, per OVD-Info, an independent protest monitoring group which reported that some detainees had been given summons to report to military enlistment offices.
Western officials, as well as former diplomats and Russia experts, say that Putin’s partial mobilization shows that Russia is “failing” or “losing” in Ukraine.
“President Putin’s call to partially mobilize Russian citizens, directing them to fight in Ukraine, reflects the Kremlin’s struggles on the battlefield, the unpopularity of the war, and Russians’ unwillingness to fight in it. President Putin is not operating from a position of strength; rather, this is another sign of his failing mission,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
Putin is “acknowledging that the ‘special military operation’ isn’t going well,” Ivo Daalder, former US ambassador to NATO, told Insider on Wednesday, adding that “any mobilization — partial or whole— seven months into a war means you’re losing, not winning.”
Putin announced his mobilization plans after Ukraine made astonishing progress in recapturing territory as part of a counteroffensive launched in recent weeks. The Pentagon in August said Russia is estimated to have suffered up to 80,000 casualties in Ukraine since the war began in late February.