Strange flights and fired generals: Is something up in Russia?

AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko

In the Internet age, when the world’s eyes are upon Russia, we’re all amateur Kremlinologists.

And since amateurs typically don’t understand the full complexion of the information we’re seeing, we tend to overreact to what may be innocuous developments.


So bear that in mind as you process the following tweets.

A number of private jets were spotted leaving Moscow for Dubai this morning. Which makes sense: After Putin’s nutty speech yesterday about cleansing Russia of pro-western “traitors,” if I were a Russian billionaire I’d want to get as far away from Moscow as I could ASAP.

But it’s not just private jets that are on the move, it seems:

One outlet claims that one of the jets is a mobile command post:


Is Putin planning something that might give him and his advisors good reason to not want to be in Moscow when the west retaliates?

Before you panic, note that some of these flights might be picking people up and bringing them *to* Moscow. The planes are scheduled for return, in any case:

It’s also curious that they’d leave their transponders on, broadcasting their movements to the world, if Putin were planning a surprise escalation. Maybe this is choreographed saber-rattling by Russia, an attempt to spook the U.S. and NATO into fearing that something big is coming. The timing would make sense, coming just a day after Biden announced we were sending a huge new weapons package to Ukraine.

In fact, at least one source says the movement of the Russian planes isn’t that unusual. Their flight paths may be a product of so much foreign airspace having recently been closed to Russian jets:


That’s a relief! But wait — one particular plane’s unusual movements are harder to explain:

Did China decide it doesn’t want any photo ops right now? If so, one would think they would have communicated that to Lavrov before he left.

It seems more likely that Putin abruptly decided he needed Lavrov back in Moscow. And it must have been important business to justify canceling a trip to Russia’s one last meaningful ally mid-flight.

Or, a third possibility: There’s a power struggle suddenly unfolding in the capital and Lavrov’s presence was urgently needed.

Coincidentally, rumors are swirling that a top military official has been detained by the FSB:


A subsequent report in Russia media flagged by Grozev claims Gavrilov has been fired. He wouldn’t be the first Russian official purged within the past week over the fiasco in Ukraine, if so.

Tom Nichols is an expert on Russia who began his work during the Reagan era, in the thick of the Cold War. He’s watching the flight information today too but it’s not setting off any alarm bells. “I don’t know what it means,” he confessed on Twitter an hour ago. There have been no news reports suggesting that anything’s up either, which makes “social media panic” the likeliest explanation for what’s going on. Still, Lavrov’s movements are curious. And the White House is sufficiently concerned about Russia using WMD in Ukraine that Jake Sullivan formally warned Russia’s national security advisor in a phone call yesterday to think twice before doing it.


Hope for the best. Maybe the flights are nothing more or less than Russians, including Russian government officials, looking for a way out of the country? There’s a lot of that going around lately.

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