Flights out of Russia sold out as Russian men try to escape draft to fight in Ukraine

Flights out of Russia sold out as Russian men try to escape draft to fight in Ukraine
Vladimir Putin (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Russia recently suffered large casualties in Ukraine, and was forced out of some portions of Ukraine it previously occupied. In response, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial mobilization, to draft 300,000 Russian men to fight in Ukraine. But many Russians have no desire to die in droves for Putin, the way many of Russia’s poorly-led and poorly-supplied soldiers already have perished in Ukraine. So thousands of Russian men are now fleeing Russia:

Alexander, 33, found out about Vladimir Putin’s decision to order a partial mobilisation during an emotional call from his wife. “Sasha, they can take you,” she told him shortly after he’d arrived at his office in downtown Moscow. While Alexander had served in the army as a conscript nearly 15 years ago, he never saw combat. That puts him comparatively low in the mobilisation draft, Russia’s first since the second world war…“I’d rather leave than fight in this war,” he said in a short interview over a messenger app. “If they call me up, then I would want to leave [the country].”

So many men think like Alexander that all direct flights out of Russia are sold out for the next several days:

Searches in Russia for the terms “tickets” and “aeroplane” more than doubled from 08:00 CEST on Wednesday compared with the start of the week, according to the Google Trends statistical tool, which tracks how often a word was typed on Google….Tickets for direct flights to destinations closest to Russia — Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan — are all sold out for Wednesday, according to the site, very popular in Russia for buying their tickets.

Travel agents call it “panic demand”:

A tourism industry source also told Reuters that demand for plane tickets from Russia for the visa-free countries has jumped. “It was possible to buy a one-way ticket in the morning for 200,000 roubles to 300,000 roubles, but not anymore,” the source said. “That’s a panic demand from people, who are afraid that they won’t be able to leave the country afterwards.”

300,000 rubles is a lot for a Russian — the equivalent of $5000. That’s almost six months pay for a Russian making the median salary there. Russia hasn’t closed the border yet to keep its people from leaving. But it is conceivable it may do so in the future. On social media, Russians claim men between 18-65 years of age are no longer able to purchase rail or airline tickets. But that age range is so big that observers are skeptical of these claims.

Earlier this month, Ukraine’s forces launched a massive counterattack in the northeast of the country, reclaiming thousands of square miles of Russian-occupied land. Now, Putin is making noises about using nuclear weapons. And Ukraine is anticipating Russian retaliation, with Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov saying he was expecting a counterattack.

Russia has begun more intense shelling of the region around Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-biggest city, starting Sunday night. The city has been left without electricity and water.

“The military story for the Kremlin is becoming worse,” says Ian Bremmer, Eurasia Group president. “To the extent that continues, it pressures Putin into calling for a mobilization — likely a partial one but still a politically and socially costly move for the Russian president at home, that will force him into declaring war with Ukraine, and tacitly admitting that Russia is facing military problems,” he said in emailed comments. Russia has insisted on calling its invasion of Ukraine a “special military operation,” not a war.

“Further, it makes Russian willingness to mete out Grozny-like ‘punishment’ onto the Ukrainians higher, both in terms of inflicting mass casualties on Ukraine through greater targeting of urban centers, as well as, in the worst case, using chemical or even tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield to sow mass panic,” Bremmer says.

Ukraine’s victories on the battlefield in recent days, and its liberation of dozens of towns and villages in the Kharkiv region, have left Russia scrambling to defend its territory in Donetsk and Luhansk, where two pro-Russian puppet “republics” are located, in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.

Russian forces were taken by surprise by Ukraine’s counterattack in the northeast of the country and were outnumbered. Russian forces hastily retreated, leaving behind vast stores of equipment and ammunition.

LU Staff

LU Staff

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