Putin's Mobilization Backfires as 370,000 Flee Russia in Two Weeks

Russian President Vladimir Putin's partial mobilization appears to have backfired as more than 370,000 citizens have fled the country since the decree—more than the total number that defense officials said would be called to enlist in the military.

Putin's September 21 declaration sparked nationwide protests and a mass exodus of Russians fleeing across the border to neighboring countries including Georgia, Finland, Kazakstan and Mongolia to avoid being conscripted.

Kazakhstan's interior minister said in a statement on Tuesday that more than 200,000 Russians have come to the neighboring Central Asian country since the decree was announced.

That figure matches the 200,000 that Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Tuesday had been enlisted into the army since Putin's call for 300,000 reservists and ex-military personnel with "certain military specialties and relevant experience."

Russians arrive in Kazakhstan amid Putin's mobilization
Above, Russians arrive in Kazakhstan at the Syrym border crossing point on September 27, 2022. Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on September 21 a mobilization of hundreds of thousands of Russian men to bolster Moscow's army in Ukraine, sparking demonstrations and an exodus of men abroad.

More than 93,000 Russians have crossed into Georgia in two weeks, according to the Russian news outlet Fontanka. An earlier search by Newsweek found that six miles of traffic had built up at Russia's border with Georgia the morning after Putin's announcement.

Last week, the European Union reported that 66,000 Russians had arrived in the EU, with the majority of citizens entering the bloc through Finnish and Estonian border crossing points.

By October 2, at least 12,000 Russians had entered Mongolia, according to border officials.

The number of Russians fleeing in the two weeks since Putin declared a partial mobilization comes against the backdrop of a new law signed by the Russian leader that punishes those who refuse to serve or evade service with up to 10 years in prison.

Hundreds of thousands have also fled amid reports that those ineligible to be called up, including students, the elderly, and those with medical conditions and injuries, have also been handed a summons to fight in Ukraine.

Joel Hickman, the deputy director of the Transatlantic Defense and Security program at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), told Newsweek that the mobilization and general level of panic that is now setting in within Russia, with hundreds of thousands of men taken out of the workforce—either by fleeing or fighting in Ukraine—is only going to exacerbate the problems Putin is now facing amid the war.

The mobilization has so far been in "complete shambles," said Hickman.

"What we're currently seeing is a deeply chaotic and unpopular mobilization effort that is pretty much guaranteed to fail," Hickman said. "Whilst hundreds of thousands of young healthy Russian men are fleeing across Russia's borders, there are reports of thousands of elderly men with numerous health problems being marched to the nearest recruiting centers."

He added, "It appears that the more Putin mobilizes, the more men will leave the country. Just think of the devastating impact this has on every sector of Russia's struggling economy."

Newsweek reached out to Russia's foreign ministry for comment.