For Russians, a Seismic War Wake-Up Call

By William J. Furney

The next available flight from Moscow to Istanbul on Aeroflot is Tuesday, September 27, and it  costs almost €1,300 for the four-hour trip to the Istanbul city popular with Russians. In happier and far more peaceful times, you could have snagged the fare for around €50.

Desperate fighting-age Russian men are even reportedly forking out up to €10,000 for one-way flights out of the sanctions-hit country as they flee to neighbouring nations to escape madman Putin’s mobilisation of military reservists as he loses ground in his war in Ukraine. Suddenly, queues formed at land borders and flights sold out as Russians men hurriedly bid farewell to their families and scrambled to get out. 

The Kremlin, ever loose with the truth, denied any such mass exodus, but the proof was there for all to see. And so, according to various reports, the government then slapped a ban on railways and airlines selling tickets to Russian men aged 18 to 65, unless they had official permission to leave the country. News agency Reuters could find no evidence of such a prohibition, however. 

The reality of Putin’s Ukraine gamble has come home to a Russian population that may have been largely indifferent to the “special military operation” now in its seventh month. Even as Western companies pulled out of the country, Russians viewed Putin’s invasion as just another crazed scheme they were better off forgetting about. 

Who needs McDonald’s when you can have the same burgers and fries at Vkusno i tochka, the rebrand after the American chain withdrew over the war? Russians flocked to the “Tasty and that’s it” stores around the country with little care for sanctions, war or anything much else apart from their stomachs.

But now, with around 300,000 reservists’ lives on the line — some with no military experience — it’s a different story, and a grim one also for the world, with the Russian leader’s threat of nuking the West if they don’t keep out of his bellicistic business. Anti-war protests erupted on the streets of Moscow, St. Petersburg and many other Russian cities, leading to scuffles with police and more than 1,300 arrested, according to Russian rights group OVD-Info.

Russian men spoke to foreign media of their “fear” of being sent to fight Putin’s war in Ukraine, which has so far claimed nearly 5,800 civilian lives. “I will break my arm, my leg; I will go to prison — anything to avoid this whole thing,” an unnamed Russian man told the BBC. For many of his countrymen, there was no waiting around to be called up for the draft, because they headed for the nearest exit, as soon as they could, whether it was taking a train out of the country, driving across the border to a neighbouring nation or flying to Turkey, Israel, Dubai or anywhere else they would be safe from the call-up. 

Meanwhile, Russia is holding what the West calls a “sham” snap referendum in captured Ukrainian regions Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, asking residents if they wish to become part of Russia. It’s less of a question, though, as residents in the occupied areas have spoken of armed military officers turning up at their doors and demanding they vote verbally, with some fearful of saying no to joining Russia and others saying soldiers took a vote per household and not per person.  

“These are not just crimes against international law and Ukrainian law; these are crimes against specific people, against a nation,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in an address to the nation. “Hide from Russian mobilisation in any way you can. Avoid draft orders. Try to move to the territory of free Ukraine.”

Not satisfied with annexing Crimea in 2014, Putin now wants the whole country, in order to “demilitarise and de-Nazify Ukraine” and make it part of the glorious motherland once again — claims all the more absurd given that the Ukrainian leader is a Jew. 

And as military-age men rush to leave Russia, the United States is scrambling to prevent Moscow from using nuclear weapons, dispatching a series of private messages to the Kremlin over the last few months warning of “grave consequences” of any such deployment, The Washington Post reported

“Don’t. Don’t. Don’t,” President Biden said on US television, addressing Putin. “You will change the face of war unlike anything since World War II.”

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