Conscription-age Russians have clearly begun to flee the country as it enters its biggest conscription since the Second World War – with airfares skyrocketing above $5,000 (£4,443). UK) and increasing border crossings.
On Wednesday, Vladimir Putin kicked off a new mobilization campaign for the seven-month war in Ukraine that has ravaged cities, killed thousands and displaced millions – as well as damaged communities. global economy.
While surveys in Russia show widespread domestic support for Moscow’s “special military operation” – partly due to extensive government propaganda – the threat from conscription mass has caused people to flee and protest across the country.
Prices for some airfares from Moscow have risen above $5,000 (£4,443) for one-way flights to the nearest foreign destinations, with most sold out in the coming days.
“This is bewildering demand from people who fear they won’t be able to leave the country later on – people are buying tickets regardless of where they’re flying to,” a travel industry source said.
Traffic also spiked at the border crossings with Finland and Georgia.
Prime Minister Sanna Marin said at a press conference on Thursday, the Finnish government is considering measures to drastically reduce Russian tourism and transit through Finland.
Finland’s land border crossings remain one of the few European entrances to Russians after a string of Western countries closed their land and air borders to Russian aircraft.
Finland chose to keep its border with Russia open after the invasion of Moscow on 24 February, although it has cut the number of consular appointments available to Russian visitors seeking visas.
Border traffic ‘intensifies’ during the night
At the Vaalimaa border crossing, about a three-hour drive from Russia’s second-largest city St Petersburg, three car lanes each stretched 300-400 meters (yards) around 1:15 p.m. local time (1015 GMT) , a border official told Reuters.
“Traffic at the Finnish-Russian border intensified overnight,” the border’s head of international affairs, Matti Pitkaniitty, said in a tweet. He told Reuters that border guards were ready at nine checkpoints.
Although traffic from Russia was busier than usual, the border force said in a statement that it had not changed “alarmingly” in recent days from its pre-pandemic level.
Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, other EU countries bordering Russian territory, began barring Russian citizens from crossing at midnight on Monday, saying they should not travel when their country is at war with Ukraine.
The three Baltic states will not provide refuge to any Russians fleeing Moscow’s maneuver, their ministers said on Wednesday.
More than 1,300 people were arrested on Wednesday as anti-war protests raged across 38 Russian cities.
Independent news agencies said some of the detainees were ordered to report to enlistment offices on Thursday, the first day of enlistment.
More rallies are planned for the weekend.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said: “Now, due to mobilization, for most Russian citizens, Russia’s war against Ukraine is not something on TV or the internet but something that has penetrated every house. of the Russian people,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a speech on Thursday night.
However, Russia said reports of a mass exodus were exaggerated and state news agencies on Thursday reported that 10,000 people had volunteered to fight even before their summons. , quoted from the Russian General Staff.
Plan to annex Ukraine – and nuclear threat
On Wednesday, Mr Putin announced plans to effectively annex four Ukrainian provinces, with referendums starting on Friday, and threatened to use nuclear weapons if necessary.
The votes were widely condemned by the international community as “fake referendums”, with NATO calling them “illegal and illegal”.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council that talking of a nuclear conflict was “completely unacceptable” and said any move to annex the territory would violate International law.
“The international order that we have assembled here to uphold is being destroyed before our eyes,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the United Nations Security Council.
“We can’t let President Putin get away with it.”
But in his speech, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused Kyiv of “blatantly trampling” on the rights of Russians and Russian-speaking people in Ukraine.
He later left a United Nations meeting when allies criticized Russia for the war.