Some Russian men rushed to their country’s borders on Thursday after President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial mobilization, with increased traffic at border crossings with Finland and Georgia and a sharp rise in airline ticket prices. from Moscow.
Putin on Wednesday ordered Russia’s first mobilization since World War II and backed a plan to annex parts of Ukraine, warning the West that he meant business when he said he would be ready to use nuclear weapons to defend Russia.
Air ticket prices out of Moscow soared above $5,000 for the nearest foreign one-way tickets, with most completely sold out by the next few days.
Social media groups appeared with advice on how to leave Russia, while a Russian-language news site offered a list of “where to flee Russia right now.” There were long lines at the border crossings with Georgia.
“War is horrible,” Sergei, a Russian who did not want to give his last name, told Reuters on arrival in Belgrade, the Serbian capital. “It’s okay to be afraid of war and death and stuff like that.”
A Russian man who gave his name only as Alex told Reuters in Istanbul that he had left Russia in part because of the mobilization.
“The partial mobilization is one of the reasons why I am here,” he said. “It seems like a very poor measure and it can lead to a lot of problems for many Russians.” His impression, he said, is that not many Russians want to be sent to fight.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday that reports of an exodus of conscript-age men are exaggerated. Asked about reports that men detained at anti-war protests were receiving draft papers, Peskov said that was not against the law.
A tourist industry source told Reuters there was desperation as people searched for plane tickets to leave Russia: “It’s a panicked demand by people who fear they won’t be able to leave the country later; people are buying tickets without care where they fly.”
Traffic on the border with Finland intensifies
Traffic reaching Finland’s eastern border with Russia “intensified” overnight, the Finnish Border Guard said.
At the Vaalimaa border crossing, about a three-hour drive from Russia’s second-largest city, St. Petersburg, three lanes of cars stretched for 300-400 meters at about 1:15 p.m. local time (5:00 p.m.). 15 Mexico City time), a border official told Reuters.
The crossing is one of nine along Finland’s 1,300-kilometre border with Russia, the longest in the European Union.
Defense Minister Antti Kaikkonen said on Wednesday that Finland is closely monitoring the situation in its neighbor following Putin’s order on Wednesday for a mobilization for the war in Ukraine.
Although traffic from Russia was heavier than normal, border guards said in a statement that it had not changed “alarmingly” in recent days compared to pre-pandemic times.
The statement warned that “incorrect and misleading” information was circulating on social media.
By 3:40 p.m. local time (7:40 a.m. Mexico City time), traffic had calmed down a bit, according to a Reuters witness, with cars stretching across three lanes of about 150 meters each.
Finland opted to keep its border with Russia open following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, although it has reduced the number of consular appointments available for Russian travelers seeking a visa.
Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, the other EU countries that border Russian territory, began turning away Russian citizens at border crossings at midnight on Monday, saying they should not travel while their country is at war with Ukraine. .
The three Baltic states will not offer refuge to Russians fleeing Moscow’s troop mobilization, their ministers said on Wednesday.
Finland is working on its own national solution to limit tourist traffic from Russia, Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said during a visit to New York late on Wednesday.
“Finland does not want to be a transit country for (EU) Schengen visas issued by other countries. This is the traffic we want to get under control,” Haavisto told reporters.
“The fear is that we are the only border country through which you can come from Russia to Europe with Schengen visas issued by other countries.”
Pitkaniitty said 4,824 Russians arrived in Finland through the eastern border on Wednesday, up from 3,133 the previous week.
In Norway’s far north there was no change in the number of Russians crossing, a police official told Reuters. Norway is not a member of the European Union, but is part of the Schengen area.
Germany ready to take in Russian defectors
Germany is ready to take in deserters from the Russian army “threatened with serious repression”, the German interior minister said in an interview published on Thursday, the day after the announcement of a massive deployment of Russian reservists to fight in Ukraine.
“Whoever bravely opposes Putin and puts himself in real danger can ask for political asylum in Germany,” said Nancy Faeser in this interview for the Sunday edition of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung,
Justice Minister Marco Buschmann had already said in a tweet on Wednesday that Russians fleeing their country who “hate the path chosen by Putin and love liberal democracy” are “welcome” in Germany.
Obtaining political asylum is not, however, automatic: it involves individual decisions accompanied by a security check, recalled the Minister of the Interior.
For several months, Germany has already welcomed 438 opponents of the Kremlin, threatened or persecuted by the Russian authorities, Faeser explained, especially journalists.
With information from AFP and EFE