Flights sold out as men facing the threat of mobilization try to flee Russia (Update)

(AP Photo/Marina Lystseva)

As predicted yesterday, Putin went ahead an ordered a partial mobilization today which means he’ll now be able to call up about 300,000 Russian men to double down on his war in Ukraine. Needless to say, many Russian men (and the women who care about them) aren’t thrilled about this. They have no intention of becoming cannon-fodder for Putin.

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].”

Sasha is far from alone. In fact, all of the direct flights out of Russia are already sold out for the next couple 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.

The request “to leave Russia” was carried out 100 times more in the morning than in normal times.

Tickets for direct flights to destinations closest to Russia — Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan — are all sold out for Wednesday, according to the Aviasales.ru site, very popular in Russia for buying their tickets.

Reuters spoke to someone in the tourism industry who called 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.”

A price of 300,000 rubles is the equivalent of $5000. That’s about five months of average wages in Russia so clearly people are pretty desperate. So far, Russia hasn’t closed the border to prevent anyone from leaving but that may be coming next. There are some reports like this one that men are no longer able to purchase rail or airline tickets but I’m not sure if this is accurate.

Russia’s Duma passed a new law yesterday that makes desertion a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison. So anyone who does leave could be facing serious consequences if they ever decide to return. But obviously a lot of people are thinking they’d rather risk that than taking a bullet in Ukraine.

Finally, it’s worth noting that because of the way things work in Russia, no one with power or connections expects to be called up for military service. Alexei Navalny’s people made a prank phone call to the son of Putin’s press secretary telling him he’d been ordered to report at 10 am for military service. He made it clear that he would not be coming and would resolve the problem “on another level.”

Update: People are trying to flee by car as well.

Update: Apparently this is what happens if you protest mobilization in Russia.

Lots of people arrested today.

The OVD-Info monitoring group counted at least 1,337 people detained at rallies in 38 different cities across the country after Putin’s morning address to the nation.

The protests were the largest in Russia since demonstrations that broke out following the announcement of Moscow’s military intervention in Ukraine in February.

Update 9/22: Just saw this. Apparently that video above of cars at the border with Finland is not related to the mobilization. Just wanted to correct the record on that.

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