Eyewitness video published by RFE/RL’s Georgian Service showed a large number of cars queueing to cross from Russia into Georgia at the Zemo Larsi/Verkhny Lars on Wednesday (September 21) on the day Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilisation in Russia.
An unidentified person filming the video complained of cars jumping the queue and said the mountain pass border crossing – which often sees queues of many hours – was “at a standstill”.
A Reuters correspondent in Georgia on Thursday said it appears cars were being let through in small groups.
Traffic had also been seen surging at border crossings with Finland – with prices for air tickets from Moscow rocketing.
Putin on Wednesday 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.
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.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday 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.
Russian state-owned pollsters say that more than 70% 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 conflict in Ukraine has killed tens of thousands, unleashed an inflationary wave through the global economy and triggered the worst confrontation with the West since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, when many feared nuclear war imminent.
A tourism industry source told Reuters that there was desperation as people sought to find air tickets out of Russia.
“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,” the source said.
Traffic arriving at Finland’s eastern border with Russia “intensified” overnight, the Finnish Border Guard said.
“The number clearly has picked up,” the Finnish border guard’s head of international affairs, Matti Pitkaniitty, told Reuters, adding that the situation was under control and border guards were ready at nine checkpoints.
Russian police detained more than 1,300 people in Russia on Wednesday at protests denouncing mobilisation, a rights group said.
Some Russian men headed swiftly to the borders after President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial mobilization, with traffic at frontier crossings with Finland and Georgia surging and prices for air tickets from Moscow rocketing https://t.co/CgGGdJZKn4 pic.twitter.com/ktRsXB7Tnh
— Reuters (@Reuters) September 23, 2022