Many Russians appear eager to leave the country to avoid becoming soldiers. The only problem is that they can't easily get out.
On Tuesday, in advance of a speech that Russian President Vladimir Putin was slated to give about the invasion of Ukraine, Google searches in Russia for information about how to leave the country spiked, Latvian newspaper Meduza reported.
In his speech on Wednesday morning, Putin outlined plans to call up military reservists for active duty. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu later clarified that about 300,000 individuals with military training would be immediately called up for service out of a pool of about 25 million Russians who could be eligible for conscription.
Not coincidentally, one-way plane ticket prices for flights leaving Russia have skyrocketed or largely sold out. Flights to the few available destinations—like Belgrade, Serbia, and Istanbul, Turkey—were already sold out for the coming days, NPR reported on Wednesday morning. The few tickets remaining were selling for the equivalent of nearly $10,000.
One of the problems facing those trying to flee is that there aren't many countries where Russians can enter without a visa, and few airlines still fly to Russia since the European Union imposed a flight embargo in response to the war in Ukraine.
It's unclear whether the Russian government will close the border to able-bodied men of military age, but it's hard to blame anyone in Russia for not sticking around to find out. Military drafts are moral evils, and even the specter of one is enough to send people running.
There's been an ongoing exodus of people from Russia since the war in Ukraine began, but the sudden rush for the border highlights one of the flaws in how western governments have responded to Putin's war. By making it harder, rather than easier, for Russians to emigrate, the European Union and others are only helping Putin trap Russian citizens in the country. It would be better to let them freely leave on European and American planes than lock them inside the country and leave them vulnerable to conscription.
As has been the case since the war began, the United States and other governments opposed to Russia's invasion could do a better job of punishing Putin by throwing open their doors to his critics. Holding average Russians accountable for a tyrant's decisions doesn't win hearts or minds.
"I understood the best way to act against Putin's regime would be my emigration from Russia," Yevgeny Lyamin, a 23-year-old Russian immigrant to Great Britain told the BBC in March. More of this, please!
To its credit, the Biden administration has asked Congress to make it easier for Russians with advanced degrees to enter the U.S., but the change has not been approved. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R–Ill.) has claimed that Republican opposition to easing immigration rules is to blame.
That's a shame. Russians trying to flee Putin's war need the opportunity to exit, especially since it's dangerous to use their voices in their home country. Let Russians vote with their feet, and the West can peacefully rob Putin of an army for his illegal war.