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Google searches for ways to leave Russia spike as Putin announces conscription of reserves

A police monitoring group has said that more than 1,000 people have been arrested for taking part in anti-mobilisation protests.

File photo of passenger plane leaving Moscow's
File photo of passenger plane leaving Moscow's
Image: Shutterstock/Telsek

Updated Sep 21st 2022, 8:23 PM

GOOGLE SEARCHES FOR ways to leave Russia spiked ahead of Vladimir Putin’s first televised address since February.

Data also shows that searches for flights out of Russia also spiked in the lead-up and aftermath of the Russian president’s address.

Speaking this morning, Putin repeatedly claimed that his army was fighting a special military operation against “neo-nazis” and “the whole military machine of the West”.

He added that he signed a “partial mobilisation” of reserves in Russia.

The conscription will affect only those who are in the military reserve and anyone with previous military experience.

Russia’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said this will involve 300,000 people, adding that students will be exempt.

Flights out of Russia

Despite the apparent limits on the “partial mobilisation”, direct flights from Moscow to Istanbul, which allows visa-free entry to Russians, were sold out today on Aviasales.

Aviasales is Russia’s most popular website for booking flights.

Last year, it held a market share in Russia of almost 20% of all air ticket sales.

There was a dramatic spike in Google searches within Russia for the flight-booking site in the run-up and aftermath of Putin’s speech.

gogole search aviasales Screengrab of Google search trends for Aviasales in Russia over the past seven days.

At the time of writing, a route from Moscow to Istanbul with a stop-over in Azerbaijan’s Baku was available, but at a price of €1,426, more than one and a half times the average monthly salary in Russia (56,500 Russian Roubles / €931).

avia sales Screenshot of flight options from Moscow to Istanbul today on Aviasales.

‘How to leave Russia’

Google data also reveals that searches within Russia for the phrase ‘How to leave Russia’ spiked in advance of Putin’s speech, at around 6pm Russian time last night.

While Russia’s Yandex is the most popular search engine within the country, Google is the second most popular option, having an almost 38% share of the market.

google trends how to leave russia Screengrab of Google data for searches of 'How to leave Russia' within the country in the past 24 hours.

Arrests

Police monitoring group OVD-Info has reported today that at least 1,054 people have been detained at at demonstrations across Russia against President Vladimir Putin’s announcement earlier today. 

According to the monitoring group, people have been detained at rallies in 38 different cities across the country.

The protests were the largest in Russia since demonstrations that broke out following the announcement of Moscow’s military intervention in Ukraine in February.

AFP journalists in the centre of the Russian capital said at least 50 people were detained by police wearing anti-riot gear on a main shopping street.

In Russia’s former imperial capital, Saint Petersburg, AFP reporters saw police surround small a group of protesters and detain demonstrators one-by-one.

Protesters were chanting “no mobilisation”.

“Everyone is scared. I am for peace and I don’t want to have to shoot. But coming out now is very dangerous, otherwise there would be many more people,” said protester Vasily Fedorov, a student wearing a pacifist symbol on his chest.

“I came out to the rally planning to participate, but it looks like they’ve already arrested everyone. This regime has condemned itself and is destroying its youth,” said Alexei, a 60-year-old resident who declined to give his last name.

“Why are you serving Putin, a man who’s been in power for 20 years!” a young protester shouted at one policeman.

“I came to say that I am against war and mobilisation,” Oksana Sidorenko, a student, told AFP.

“Why are they deciding my future for me? I’m scared for myself, for my brother,” she added.

Legislation

Putin’s address came a day after Russia’s Kremlin-controlled lower house of parliament approved legislation that toughens punishment for soldiers breaching their duties, in an apparent effort to boost discipline in the ranks amid the fighting in Ukraine.

The amendments to Russia’s Criminal Code introduces severe punishments for failure to follow orders, desertion or surrendering to the enemy.

Under the new legislation, deserting a military unit during a period of mobilisation or martial law would be punishable by up to 10 years in prison, compared with five years under the current law.

Soldiers who voluntarily surrender to the enemy will also face a prison term of up to 10 years, and those convicted of looting could be handed 15 years.

Another amendment introduces a prison sentence of up to 10 years for those who refuse to go to combat or follow an officer’s order.

The new legislation follows media reports that some Russian soldiers in Ukraine have refused to go into combat and tried to resign from service.

‘Protests already starting’

Marina Paramonova-Izugbaja is a Russian Disinformation Analyst at Dublin-based Kinzen.

It’s an organisation that describes itself as “empowering the people who protect our communities and conversations from dangerous disinformation”.

She told The Journal there are “roughly three groups of people in Russia right now and three types of reactions”.

The first she says are “hardcore supporters of the Kremlin and its decisions”.

Marina describes then as having been “exposed to propaganda for a long time, to the point where they started believing all the Kremlin’s narratives and stopped questioning any decisions”.

She added that there is a “middle ground or the grey zone” of people who “might have been supporters of the war initially but are now starting to question the information they are receiving from Russian official sources.”

Marina said: “Many people online, even on strongly pro-Kremlin pages, started posting comments like ‘’if there are no losses, why do we need mobilisation?’”

She adds that a third group of people are “against the war or at least, firmly against the mobilisation”.

“There are protests already starting in Russia and more are to come throughout the day and in the following days,” said Marina.

“One notorious protest is being organised by a youth organisation called ‘Vesna’,” she added, “yet protesters are already being threatened with 15 years of imprisonment.”

In the aftermath of the announcement, Marina says “many people are worried about either themselves or their family members and want to leave Russia”.

She says people are using this chance to leave the country and adds that “it’s been reported that tickets have been sold out to the countries which do not require visa for Russian citizens”.

With additional reporting from Press Association and © – AFP 2022

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