Desperate Russians are frantically trying to flee the country after Vladimir Putin announced a dramatic mobilisation.
In the biggest escalation of the Ukraine war since the invasion, Putin explicitly raised the spectre of a nuclear conflict and called up 300,000 reservists in the country’s first mobilisation since World War II.
Direct flights from Moscow to Istanbul in Turkey and Yerevan in Armenia, both destinations that allow Russians to enter without a visa, were sold out today, according to Aviasales data, Russia’s most popular flight purchasing website.
A family walks in front of a billboard promoting the military in St Petersburg, with the slogan: ‘Serving Russia is a real job’
Google searches for ‘How to leave Russia’ also increased today, data shows (pictured), as terrified civilians sought to avoid the prospect of conflict
Some routes with stopovers, including those from Moscow to Tbilisi, were also unavailable, while the cheapest flights from the capital to Dubai were costing more than 300,000 roubles (£4,500) – about five times the average monthly wage.
Google searches for ‘How to leave Russia’ also increased, data shows, as terrified civilians sought to avoid the prospect of conflict.
The tyrant’s announcement, made in an early-morning television address, raised fears that some men of fighting age would not be allowed to leave Russia.
Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said the call-up would be limited to those with experience as professional soldiers, and that students and those who had only served as conscripts would not be called up.
Nevertheless, the move has raised fears of mass conscription in the worrying escalation of the war.
Shortly after 7am in London, the rouble had slumped 2.6 per cent against the dollar, having earlier dipped to its weakest point since July 7.
While flights leaving the country to popular destinations such as Berlin or Hong Kong, a flight to St Petersburg today from Moscow remains unchanged
Russian stock indexes were plunging, with energy giants Rosneft and Gazprom at one point losing around 12 per cent.
The benchmark rouble-based MOEX index hit its lowest point since Feb. 24, the day Russia sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine.
The index was down 5.5 per cent at 2,094.5 points, earlier reaching a low of 2,002.73 points.
The dollar-denominated RTS index was down 8 per cent to 1,061.9 points, its lowest point since April 27.
He then vowed to use ‘all means’ to defend the new territories, saying: ‘If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will without doubt use all available means to protect Russia and our people – this is not a bluff.’
Putin attempted to revise history in his address, claiming the West was using Ukrainians as cannon fodder despite his military striking civilian targets (pictured)
Accusing the West of trying to ‘divide and destroy’ his country, he added: ‘Those trying to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that the tables can turn on them.’
Putin’s gambit comes after Ukraine routed a large part of the Russian army last week, leaving him backed into a corner of his own making and facing the possible collapse of his so-called ‘special military operation’.
But rather than back down, the Russian leader has instead chosen to hold the free world to ransom – putting Russia and its huge nuclear arsenal on direct collision course with Ukraine and its allies, who have already vowed not to accept the results of ‘sham’ referendums or to stop liberating occupied territory.
It is thought the mobilisation will press around 300,000 people into the Russian army – around twice the size of the force that Putin invaded with.
But it is unclear when exactly these men will become available, and the move will do nothing to solve Russia’s chronic lack of equipment, supplies and other logistical issues that have spelled disaster for its invasion so-far.
Putin had resisted declaring any kind of mobilistion until now, apparently fearing backlash from Russians who may have been supporting his ‘special military operation’ only because they had nothing to lose.
But the Russian leader dramatically changed tack under pressure from allies, propagandists and hardliners after another humiliating military defeat near Kharkiv last week which had sparked calls for him to resign.
Shoigu also gave a rare update on Russian casualty figures in his speech, preposterously claiming that only 6,000 Kremlin troops had been killed.
Ukrainian losses, he said, were ten times that: 61,000 dead and 49,000 wounded.