Russians Evading Putin’s Draft Flee To Georgia

Following Vladimir Putin’s announcement on September 21st of partial mobilization, Georgia has seen an inflow of Russians fleeing their country, for the second time this year. Hundreds of thousands of military-aged Russian men have crossed the state’s borders by land and air out of fear of conscription for the war in Ukraine. Despite the excessive costs of plane tickets, shortly after Putin’s announcement, all international flights were sold out, and queues at border crossings were stretching back for kilometres. It is difficult for those trying to dodge the draft to leave the country. One of the few exists remaining is Georgia, a country Russians can enter without a visa and stay for up to a year. The line of vehicles at the Georgian border extended for kilometres, where some people reported waiting for days.

Many Georgians have raised concerns about the influx of Russians. The Georgian Minister of Internal Affairs Vakhtang Gomelauri tried to calm these worries by stating: “Russians have always entered Georgia and the previous government had no problem with that either…why should this become problematic today all of a sudden? There is, of course, a probability that it may grow, but maybe it won’t.” Despite that, Georgians remain uneasy, wondering how the government will manage the surge of Russian immigrants. On October 17th, the Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili indicated that her country might revise its liberal visa policy for Russian nationals in the face of an extraordinary influx brought on by the mobilization. Zourabichvili said: “I would not call it a threat, but it is a challenge… I also do not exclude that we will have to revise the visa regime, which currently is liberal and does not correspond to the Russian aggression [against Ukraine]. The issue must be decided by [Georgian] authorities and our society.”

The war has escalated as Putin is fighting not only against the Ukrainians but also against millions of Russians. The Russian leader has shown that he is prepared to sacrifice the lives of his citizens to further his imperial dreams. Already thousands of Russian soldiers have lost their lives in combat. Although Putin calls it “partial mobilization,” planning to mobilize 300,000 in reserve, there have been speculations that the Kremlin will summon more than 1 million people to fight. Russians can no longer overlook the conflict; it is now interfering in their everyday lives.

Putin’s mobilization decision comes in the wake of significant Russian defeats in Ukraine due to a counteroffensive by Ukrainian soldiers, which started at the beginning of September. The Russian president anticipated that after the invasion on February 24th, his combatants would overthrow the Ukrainian government in a matter of days. However, the Russian advance towards Kyiv was repelled, and analysts think it is unlikely that a second attempt will be successful.

On the border with Georgia, many Russians have been waiting to cross for days without much food, water, or access to a bathroom. Those who have managed to evade conscription face many uncertainties. The draft dodgers find themselves stranded far from home without any job opportunities and no concrete plans for the future. This is the second wave of Russians coming to Georgia. The first one started at the beginning of the war when liberals and young families against the war fled the country. While this time, most immigrants are Russian men who do not want to fight in Ukraine.

Many Georgians are observing the Russians pouring into their country with fear, as it reminds them of the thousands of Russian men who invaded Georgia in 2008. They are concerned that the Russians threaten their state, which could become Putin’s next target. Some Georgians see the war in Ukraine as a follow-up of the 2008 conflict. The country’s pro-Western party claims that the new immigrants put Georgia’s security, economy, and stability at risk. Nevertheless, Putin’s mobilization has shown how weak the Russian support for the war is. The mobilization did not go according to plan because citizens protested around the country, and thousands fled to evade the draft. Putin may need to focus on maintaining his position of power as the domestic situation, after years of brutal repression of his opposition, gets tenser.