The number of Russians attempting to leave the country via air or land has risen sharply following President Vladimir Putin’s announcement of the “partial mobilization” of Russian citizens to bolster his depleted forces in Ukraine.
Travel agency websites in Russia showed a dramatic increase on Wednesday in the demand for flights to destinations where Russians are not required to have a visa. Flight sales websites in Russia indicate that all direct flights to countries that do not require Russian visas are sold out through Friday at least.
Direct flights from Moscow to Istanbul, Yerevan in Armenia and Baku in Azerbaijan are among those that are full, according to ticket aggregator websites.
According to Google Trends, the term “leaving Russia” saw a sharp spike in searches among Russians over the past 24 hours.
Google Trends data also showed a sharp rise in Russians searching for “Aviasales” – a leading Russian flight sales engine. The number had quadrupled in 24 hours with most searches coming from Moscow and St. Petersburg.
According to Aviasales ticket aggregator, one-way tickets on Friday out of Moscow to Istanbul are starting at $2,715 per ticket. Before President Putin’s mobilization announcement, the tickets cost about $350.
Russian state carrier Aeroflot’s website showed that all economy class tickets to Armenia are sold out until September 28.
Aeroflot said in a statement: “Due to inquiries from passengers and the media, we would like to inform you that Aeroflot Group airlines are operating as usual. There are no restrictions on ticket sales.”
Those attempting to flee the country by land also increased. Traffic on Finland’s eastern border with Russia intensified overnight on Thursday, a Finnish border guard official said in a Tweet.
The border guard’s head of international affairs, Matti Pitkaniitty, said in a tweet that 4,824 Russians arrived in Finland via the country’s eastern border on Wednesday evening.
He added that this traffic is “lower than [a] normal weekend,” but was considerably higher than the 3,133 Russians who arrived via the border last Wednesday.
Traffic on Thursday morning also remained busy, he said.
On Wednesday, Defense Minister Antti Kaikkonen said Finland is closely monitoring the situation in Russia following the Kremlin’s announcement of “partial mobilization.”
The spike in demand for flights out of the country, and in traffic at the Finnish border, followed Putin’s speech on Wednesday morning, an intervention which threatened to escalate his faltering invasion of Ukraine. The “partial mobilization” of citizens means those who are in the reserve could be called up, and those with military experience would be subject to conscription, Putin said.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Russian television Wednesday morning that 300,000 reservists would be called up. Putin added that the relevant decree had already been signed and was in effect.
The flurry in online searches for flights out of Russia may indicate growing dissent over the Kremlin’s actions in Ukraine. On Monday, Russian pop legend Alla Pugacheva was the latest high-profile Russian to voice opposition to the war. She called for an end to Russian soldiers “dying for illusory aims that make our country a pariah.”
While Putin’s speech on Wednesday has serious implications for parts of the Russian population, it also sent further warning shots to the West. The President said he would use “all the means at our disposal,” and even raised the possibility of using nuclear weapons, if he deemed Russia’s “territorial integrity” to be threatened.