Putin’s military mobilisation sparks ‘exodus from Russia’
Some Russian men headed swiftly to the borders yesterday after President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial mobilisation, with traffic at frontier crossings with Finland and Georgia surging and prices for air tickets from Moscow rocketing.
Putin yesterday ordered Russia's first mobilisation since World War Two and backed a plan to annex swathes of Ukraine, warning the West he was not bluffing when he said he'd be ready to use nuclear weapons to defend Russia.
Prices for air tickets out of Moscow soared above $5,000 for one-way tickets to the nearest foreign locations, with most air tickets sold out completely for coming days.
Social media groups popped up with advice on how to get out of Russia while one news site in Russian gave a list of "where to run away right now from Russia." There were long tailbacks at border crossings with Georgia.
Meanwhile, Russian police detained more than 1,300 people in Russia on Wednesday at protests denouncing mobilisation, a rights group said.
Despite the reported arrests, the anti-war protest movement Vesna (Spring) urged more protests across Russia tomorrow.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken yesterday demanded that Putin be held to account as he faced Russia in a Security Council session in which the United Nations catalogued abuses in Ukraine.
"The very international order we've gathered here to uphold is being shredded before our eyes," Blinken told the Security Council in a special session as leaders met at the United Nations.
"We cannot -- we will not -- let President Putin get away with it," he said.
Blinken accused Putin of adding "fuel to the fire" with recent steps including calling up reservists and planning referendums in Russian-held Ukrainian territory.
The top US diplomat said it was critical to show that "no nation can redraw the borders of another by force."
Opening the session, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that the UN rights body has seen "a catalog of cruelty -- summary executions, sexual violence, torture and other inhumane and degrading treatment against civilians and prisoners of war.
"War is horrible," Sergei, a Russian who declined to give his surname, told Reuters as he arrived in Belgrade, the Serbian capital. "It's okay to be afraid of war and of death and such things."
One Russian man who gave his name as Alex told Reuters in Istanbul that he had left Russia partly due to the mobilisation.
"The partial mobilisation is one of the reasons why I am here," he said. "A very poor step it seems to be, and it can lead to lots of problems to lots of Russians."
He said he felt that not many Russians would want to be sent to fight.
Another Russian, who gave his name only as Vasily, arrived in Istanbul with his wife, teenage daughter and six suitcases.
"The mobilization was inevitable because there was a shortage of human resources. I am not worried because I'm already 59 years old and my son lives abroad," he said.
A truck driver who crossed the Russian-Kazakh border on Thursday near the Kazakh city of Oral told Reuters he saw unusually heavy traffic from the Russian side. He asked not to be identified, fearing that might complicate his future travel.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that reports of an exodus of draft-age men were exaggerated. Asked about reports that men detained at anti-war protests were being given draft papers, Peskov said it was not against the law.
Some 10,000 volunteers have turned up to enlist for Russia's military campaign in Ukraine without waiting for call-up papers issued under a partial mobilisation, Russian news agencies reported, citing the Russian General Staff.
Russian state-owned pollsters say that more than 70 percent of Russians support what the Kremlin calls the "special military operation", though polling leaked in July showed an even split between those who wanted to fighting to stop or continue.
The war in Ukraine has killed tens of thousands, unleashed an inflationary wave through the global economy and triggered deepening confrontation with the West.