Some draft-age Russians rushed to leave the country on Thursday to escape their country’s biggest conscription drive since World War Two, as world powers at the United Nations demanded Moscow be held accountable for alleged atrocities in Ukraine.
Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, defended Moscow and responded defiantly, accusing Kyiv and its Western allies of threatening his country, before walking out at the end of his speech to the Security Council.
Surveys in Russia have suggested widespread domestic backing for Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine and significantly higher approval ratings for Putin than before the invasion on 24 February.
But mass conscription, intended to enlist 300,000 troops, may be a gamble for Putin after promises that it would not happen and heavy Russian losses in Ukraine.
Prices for air tickets from Moscow soared above €5,000 for one-way flights to the nearest foreign locations, with most sold out for coming days. Traffic also surged at border crossings with Finland and Georgia.
“This is panic demand from people who are afraid they won’t be able to leave the country later – people are buying tickets not caring where they fly to,” a tourism industry source stated.
Anti-war protests have been taking place in 38 Russian cities, with more planned for the weekend. They have resulted in more than 1,300 people arrested on Wednesday, as reported by a monitoring group. Some of the detainees had been ordered to report to enlistment offices on Thursday, the first full day of conscription, independent news outlets said.
“Now, due to mobilisation, for most Russian citizens, Russia’s war against Ukraine is not something on TV or the internet but something that has entered every Russian home,” Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a video address on Thursday night.
Russia said reports of a mass exodus were exaggerated.
Russian news agencies reported on Thursday that 10,000 people had volunteered to fight even before their call-up papers had arrived, citing the Russian General Staff.
Putin’s mobilisation plans comes as the Russian army has faced major setbacks in northeastern Ukraine since the start of the month.
On Wednesday, he announced plans to annex four Ukrainian regions and said his threat to use nuclear weapons was not a “bluff”.