In view of the partial mobilization announced by President Vladimir Putin, numerous Russians have already left the country to avoid being deployed at the front. Long queues were reported from the borders to several neighboring countries on Thursday, but current numbers of people fleeing Russia were initially unknown.
A passenger at the Mongolian border told AFP that he had to wait 12 hours before he could cross the border by car.
The announcement had also prompted a rush for international flight tickets. According to booking site Aviasales, popular in Russia, all direct flights to the nearest former Soviet republics of Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan were fully booked on Wednesday.
At Yerevan airport in Armenia, Russians told AFP they fled the mobilization. According to his own description, the 45-year-old Dmitri left his wife and children at home. “I don’t want to die in this senseless war. It’s a civil war,” he said.
The situation in Russia would make anyone want to leave the country, a 44-year-old said. His 17-year-old son added, “We don’t want to wait to be drafted.”
“Going to war in the 21st century is wrong, to say the least,” said a 39-year-old, unsure if he would ever be able to return to Russia.
Since the beginning of the war, Armenia has become an important country of exile for fleeing Russians – since then, Armenian authorities have recorded at least 40,000 arrivals from Russia in the former Soviet republic. Around 50,000 people are said to have fled to neighboring Georgia.
Finnish border officials reported on Thursday that the number of border crossings had risen only “moderately” – Russians need a visa to enter the country.
While Poland and the Baltic states have drastically restricted entry for Russians in recent weeks, Germany declared its readiness to accept deserters from the Russian army on Thursday. Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD) said: “Anyone who bravely opposes the regime of President Vladimir Putin and therefore puts themselves in great danger can apply for asylum in Germany because of political persecution.”
Putin announced on Wednesday a partial mobilization of Russians of military age. According to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, around 300,000 reservists are to be sent to reinforce the Russian and separatist forces in eastern and southern Ukraine.
According to the Russian military, around 10,000 people volunteered to fight in Ukraine within 24 hours. They came to the recruiting offices voluntarily and without waiting for the summons, a military spokesman told the Russian news agency Interfax on Thursday.
On Wednesday, more than 1,300 people were arrested nationwide during protests against partial mobilization in Russia, according to the civil rights organization OVD-Info.
Because of the global sanctions against Russia, Russian tourists can hardly travel abroad. Some Russian tour operators are still trying to offer exotic trips. They come up with absolutely absurd ideas.
Ukraine is currently recapturing more and more territory on the ground – but dominance in the air could be decisive for the further course of the war. Currently, neither the Russian nor the Ukrainian air force has the upper hand. The Ukrainian military warns that if this continues, the war could last for years.
With the partial mobilization and the threat of a nuclear strike, Kremlin boss Putin has triggered a new level of escalation in the fight against Ukraine and the West. Conflict researcher Andreas Heinemann-Grüder is more convinced than ever: no peace is possible with Putin.