Putin speech: Google searches for ‘how to leave’ Russia surging
Terrified Russians are scrambling to flee the country today with one-way flights out of Moscow sold out after Vladimir Putin sparked mass panic by ordering a troop mobilisation in a dramatic escalation of the Ukraine war.
The desperate despot ordered the call-up of 300,000 military reserves – a first in Russia since the Second World War – and issued a chilling new threat to use nuclear weapons against the West, telling world leaders to back off Ukraine while warning: ‘I’m not bluffing’.
The apocalyptic warnings have prompted even China to demand a ceasefire ‘through dialogue and consultation’, while Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Putin should return all occupied land, including Crimea, to its ‘rightful owners’.
Putin’s announcement caused a desperate race to escape from a potential conscription in Russia, as the few remaining flights out of the country were snapped up at exorbitant prices, with some fetching tens of thousands of pounds.
According to Russian investigative news outlet RBK, all plane tickets to countries where Russians would not need a visa, including Turkey, Armenia and Georgia, have sold out, while flagship airline Aeroflot is not displaying any available flights.
Google data showed earlier that a family of three would have to fork out £44,000 to get to Johannesburg today in a 45-hour trip with three layovers, while the cheapest flights from the capital to Dubai were costing more than £4,500 – about five times the average monthly wage.
By noon, flights to Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan stopped appearing online amid the chaos.
Bus tickets were also sold out, and searches for ‘how to leave Russia’ also topped Google traffic at the time Putin’s speech was originally scheduled, data shows.
A family walks in front of a billboard promoting the military in St Petersburg, with the slogan: ‘Serving Russia is a real job’
Google data showed a family of three would have to fork out £44,000 to get to Johannesburg today in a 45-hour trip with three layovers
All plane tickets to countries where Russians would not need a visa, including Turkey, Armenia and Georgia, have sold out, while national carrier Aeroflot is not displaying any tickets for today
Vladimir Putin has today threatened to nuke the West over Ukraine, as he announced plans to annex occupied parts of its territory to the Russian mainland
Google searches for ‘How to leave Russia’ also increased today, data shows (pictured), as terrified civilians sought to avoid the prospect of conflict
A view of the Polish-Russian border crossing in Grzechotki-Mamonowo after Poland tightened restrictions on Russians entering the country,
Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu (pictured today) 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
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.
Russian Railways and Aeroflot said they hadn’t ‘yet’ been ordered to ban men aged 18 to 65 from boarding.
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.
A new word was even invented to describe the hell Putin has unleashed – ‘Mogilisation’, from the Russian word ‘Могила’ [Mogila] – or grave, the morbid fate awaiting thousands drafted into the army.
Meanwhile a mixture of fear, anger, and dissent was spreading across Russian social media networks.
Users even coined a new word – ‘Mogilisation’ from the Russian word ‘mogila’ or ‘grave’ – to describe the expected fate of those taken away to fight.
‘I am super worried for my young male friends and my boyfriend,’ said one woman, 28, from a city thousands of miles east of the Kremlin where the Russian president issued his fateful TV call-up.
Lilianna D demanded: ‘I recommend mobilising the entire Duma [parliament] and their families first of all. And let people see how loyal they are.’
Andrey Shipilov, a Cyprus-based Russian journalist, posted: ‘A friend from Russia has just messaged…an entire institute’s [graduates], all reserve officers, have already been called up this morning’.
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 double down and 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.
Putin vowed that he will use ‘all available means’ to defend what he sees as Russian territory, adding: ‘I’m not bluffing’ (pictured, a Russian nuclear test)
Russia has announced plans for referendums to take place in four regions of Ukraine it either fully or partially occupied – Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson
The benchmark rouble-based MOEX index hit its lowest point since February 24
Speaking ahead of Putin’s speech last night, President Zelensky dismissed ‘noise’ from Russia and said it will not alter Ukraine’s resolve. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba likewise vowed: ‘The Russians can do whatever they want. It will not change anything. Ukraine has every right to liberate its territories and will keep liberating them whatever Russia has to say.’
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodrymyr Zelensky, spoke out this morning after Putin’s announcement – calling it ‘predictable’ and saying it show the war is not going to plan. President Joe Biden is expected to give a speech to the UN later today when he will rally Ukraine’s allies to stay the course.
Podolyak said mobilisation will prove extremely unpopular within Russia, and accused Putin of trying to shift the blame for starting an ‘unprovoked war’ and crashing the economy on to the West.
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.
He was at pains to stress that the mobilisation is only partial, and will not affect ordinary citizens, conscripts or students. Those called up to service – starting today – will be those with experience of service and combat, he insisted.
Speaking after Putin, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu gave a rare update on Russian casualty figures, preposterously claiming that only 6,000 Kremlin troops have been killed in the war so far.
Ukrainian losses, he said, were ten times that: 61,000 dead in addition to 49,000 wounded.
In a speech delayed for 13 hours overnight – triggering wishful rumours of a coup inside the Kremlin – Putin delivered his twisted interpretation of the war to date.
He attempted to rewrite history to paint the West and NATO as the aggressor – saying they had pushed Ukraine into a war with Russia, despite ordering an invasion of the country himself just seven months ago.
Ukraine began the war back in 2014, he said – referring to the date of Russia’s last invasion – when the ‘Nazi’ regime in Kyiv had turned the military on its own civilians in an attempted genocide following what he called a ‘coup’ to oust the country’s last pro-Kremlin leader.
In Putin’s retelling, the West ‘refused a peaceful solution’ and instead began rearming Ukraine for an attack on the Donbas – leaving him with no choice but to launch a pre-emptive war to protect people.
He falsely claimed that peace negotiations with Ukraine were deliberately undermined by Kyiv’s bloody-minded Western allies, who then began training and equipping its armed forces with the goal of destroying Russia.
Attacks on schools and hospitals are not the work of the Russian army, as reams of evidence suggests, but are in fact the work of Ukrainian Nazis and nationalists, he said.
Facing these threats, Putin said he has no choice but to accept the requests of his puppet leaders in occupied Ukraine to hold referendums on joining Russia, and no choice but to call up his military reserves.
He added: ‘In its aggressive anti-Russian policies, the West has crossed all lines… There are plans in Washington and Brussels to move the military action on to Russian territory.
A dead soldier lies on the ground in Ukraine as Putin dramatically escalates his war
A refrigerated train filled with the bodies of Putin’s fallen troops returns from Ukraine earlier in the war
‘They are not just talking about Russia being destroyed on the battlefield, they are talking about political, cultural, and all other types of sovereignty with complete pillage. Now they’re talking about nuclear blackmail.
‘Those who make such statements will be reminded that our country also has various weapons of destruction and with regard to certain components they are even more modern than the NATO ones.
‘If there is any threat to the territorial integrity of our country and to protect our people we will certainly use all means available to us. I’m not bluffing.
‘Russia citizens can be certain that the territorial integrity of our motherland, our independence and security will be assured. I shall stress – by all means available to us
‘And those trying to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that the tables can turn on them
‘In our historic tradition our people had it in their destiny to stop those how are trying to subjugate our motherland and it will happen now.’
The allegations are an almost exact inversion of everything Russia has been accused of doing, and is a common trope of Kremlin propaganda.
Referendums will begin this week into next week, according to Russia occupation authorities, with the results expected to be announced shortly after.
Police and officials will go door-to-door to ensure people cast their votes, they said, leaving few doubts about which way they will be voting.
Ballot boxes will also be set up inside Russia itself, ostensibly to allow those who have already fled those regions a chance to cast a vote – but in all likelihood will be stuffed with fake ballots.
Early ‘polling’ released by Russian state media last night showed – unsurprisingly – that more than 80 per cent of people in the four regions want to join Russia.
In Donetsk and Luhansk – the focus of Putin’s war effort – the reported figure was over 90 per cent.
Russians gather in front of a billboard in St Petersburg displaying a picture of a Russian soldier along with the slogan ‘Glory to the heroes of Russia’, after Putin announced he will start conscripting men into the army
Putin attempted to revise history in his address, claiming the West was using Ukrainians as cannon fodder despite his military striking civilian targets (pictured)
Russia will also carry out a partial military mobilisation, Putin said, with veterans and reservists with combat or service experience called up (pictured, Russian marines in training)
Russia is now almost seven months into what was intended to be a days-long war in Ukraine, and the situation for its troops is becoming increasingly desperate.
Having been forced to retreat from Kyiv in the early months of fighting after its advance stalled, the Kremlin’s war machine instead focused its efforts on ‘liberating’ the eastern Donbas region.
Months of grinding warfare saw Russia capture the whole of the Luhansk region, but only around half of neighbouring Donetsk – which make up the Donbas.
As Russia’s advances slowed and then stopped, Ukraine went on the counter-attack – launching an offensive on the southern city of Kherson.
Russia moved forces from other areas of the country to help defend the city, at which point Ukraine launched a second counter-attack east out of Kharkiv – in the north.
That move caught the Kremlin’s commanders completely off guard, triggering a rout that handed 3,000 square miles of territory that Russia had spent months capturing back to Ukraine in just a few days.
And Kyiv has continued to press the attack, regaining a foothold in the Luhansk region and threatening to push further across the province.
Faced with war on two fronts and not enough men to hold the territory he has already captured, Putin was left with few options but to begin conscripting men.
However, experts and analysts say it will do little to turn the tide of the war in his favour.
It will take at least weeks, possibly months, to gather, equip, train and transport hundreds of thousands more men to the frontlines – time that Russia does not have.
By the time reinforcements arrive winter will be setting in when combat operations will be considerably harder, compounding the issues that Russia’s military already faces.
And mobilising more men will do nothing to solve the chronic lack of equipment and supplies among Russia’s ranks, or fix the logistical issues which have hampered its attacks.
Some drew comparisons with the disastrous Winter War that the Soviet Union fought against Finland, which ended with hundreds of thousands of Red Army troops dead or wounded to around 25,000 Finnish.
Western leaders had pre-empted Putin’s remarks at the UN last night, saying they would not recognise the results of any ‘sham’ referendums in Ukraine.
‘The Russians can do whatever they want. It will not change anything,’ Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Tuesday as world leaders were arriving for the United Nations General Assembly meeting.
He later doubled down on the issue, tweeting: ‘Sham ‘referendums’ will not change anything. Neither will any hybrid ‘mobilization.’
‘Russia has been and remains an aggressor illegally occupying parts of Ukrainian land. Ukraine has every right to liberate its territories and will keep liberating them whatever Russia has to say.’
French President Emmanuel Macron said that if the referendum plan ‘wasn’t so tragic it would be funny.’
He described Russia’s invasion as ‘a return to a new age of imperialism and colonies’ and warned that inaction risked ‘tearing down the global order without which peace is not possible.’
‘It’s not a matter of choosing one side between East and West, or North or South. It’s a matter of responsibility’ to the UN Charter, he said.
Putin lashed out at the free world after his military suffered a humiliating rout near Kharkiv last week that handed a swathe of territory back to Ukraine (pictured, destroyed Russian tanks)
Russia is increasingly resorting to desperate moves to hold on to the territory it has seized in Ukraine, including the apparent use of incendiary weapons (pictured)
Meanwhile, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the world was ‘facing a new fragmentation’ after years of hope following the end of the Cold War and his own nation’s reunification.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the world was ‘facing a new fragmentation’ after years of hope following the end of the Cold War and his own nation’s reunification.
Scholz said that President Vladimir Putin, who invaded Ukraine in February, will ‘only give up his war and his imperialist ambitions if he realizes he cannot win.’
‘We stand firmly at the side of those under attack — for the protection of the lives and the freedom of the Ukrainians, and for the protection of our international order,’ he said.
And Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told the assembly the U.N.’s credibility was in danger because of the invasion by Russia, a permanent member of the Security Council.
‘Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a conduct that tramples the philosophy and principles of the U.N. charter … It should never be tolerated,’ Kishida said.
President Joe Biden will make an address to the UN today in which he will argue that Russia’s ‘naked aggression’ in Ukraine is an affront to the heart of what the international body stands for.
White House officials said the focus of his time at the general assembly will be rallying Ukraine allies to stay the course against Russia, and remain united in the face of Putin’s threats.
‘He’ll offer a firm rebuke of Russia’s unjust war in Ukraine and make a call to the world to continue to stand against the naked aggression that we’ve seen these past several months,’ White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in previewing the president’s address.
‘He will underscore the importance of strengthening the United Nations and reaffirm core tenets of its charter at a time when a permanent member of the Security Council has struck at the very heart of the charter by challenging the principle of territorial integrity and sovereignty.’
In his nightly address Zelenskyy said there were lots of questions surrounding the announcements but stressed that they would not change Ukraine’s commitment to retake areas occupied by Russian forces.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed world leaders at the UN last night, thanking Western leaders for condemning Russia’s plans to break away parts of his country
Emmanuel Macron was among leaders to address the UN on Ukraine last night, accusing Putin of trying to ‘return to an age of imperialism and colonies’
‘The situation on the front line clearly indicates that the initiative belongs to Ukraine,’ he said. ‘Our positions do not change because of the noise or any announcements somewhere. And we enjoy the full support of our partners in this.
‘I thank all friends and partners of Ukraine for today’s mass principled firm condemnation of Russia’s attempts to stage new sham referenda,’ Zelensky said.
In another signal that Russia is digging in for a protracted and ramped-up conflict, the Kremlin-controlled lower of house of parliament voted Tuesday to toughen laws against desertion, surrender and looting by Russian troops.
Lawmakers also voted to introduce possible 10-year prison terms for soldiers refusing to fight.
If approved, as expected, by the upper house and then signed by Putin, the legislation would strengthen commanders’ hands against failing morale reported among soldiers.
In the Russian-occupied city of Enerhodar, shelling continued around Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.
Ukrainian energy operator Energoatom said Russian shelling again damaged infrastructure at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and briefly forced workers to start two diesel generators for emergency power to reactor cooling pumps.
Such pumps are essential for avoiding a meltdown at a nuclear facility even though all six of the plant’s reactors have been shut down. Energoatom said the generators were later switched off as main power weas restored.
The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant has been a focus for concern for months because of fears that shelling could lead to a radiation leak. Russia and Ukraine blame each other for the shelling.