TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Fewer Russians have entered neighboring countries in recent days, local authorities say, despite continued concern over the partial mobilization launched by the Kremlin less than two weeks ago to bolster its forces fighter in Ukraine.
The mass exodus of Russian men – alone or with family or friends – began on September 21, shortly after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the partial recall of reservists. In Russia, the vast majority of men under 65 are registered as reservists, so plane tickets to overseas destinations sold out within hours. Soon after, long lines of cars formed on the roads leading to the Russian borders.
More than 194,000 Russians entered Kazakhstan, Georgia and Finland as of Tuesday. It was not possible to discern how many fled the military appeal and how many traveled for other reasons, but the numbers were much higher than before the appeal.
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According to officials from the three countries, by the end of the week the influx had diminished. It was unclear whether this had to do with the temporary military recruitment centers the Russian authorities hastily set up along the land borders or the policy of pushing men back from the borders, invoking mobilization laws.
Finland banned Russians with tourist visas from entering the country on Friday, and only 1,688 Russians were able to enter the Nordic country by land that day, down from 5,262 on Thursday and more than 8,000 each day the previous weekend, according to Finnish border guards. .
Georgia also saw fewer Russians entering: just 6,109 between Thursday and Friday, compared to 9,642 between Wednesday and Thursday, the country’s Interior Ministry reported.
The decrease in the flow of Russians to Georgia, which along with Kazakhstan were the two most popular destinations for those crossing overland, may also be linked to restrictions. On Wednesday, officials in Russia’s southern region of North Ossetia, where the only land checkpoint to Georgia is located, banned entry of cars from other regions in a bid to stem the Exodus.
But officials in Kazakhstan have also noted dwindling numbers, even though no official restrictions have been enforced on either side of its border with Russia.
Kazakh Interior Minister Marat Akhmetzhanov pointed to a “persistent downward trend” in the number of Russians entering the country on Saturday: only 22,500 entered on Thursday, and even fewer – 14,100 – entered Kazakhstan on Friday. It was not immediately clear what caused the numbers to drop.
The Kremlin said it planned to call some 300,000 people, but Russian media reported the number could be as high as 1.2 million, a claim Russian officials have denied.
The Russian Ministry of Defense has promised to recruit only those with combat or service experience, but according to several media outlets and human rights activists, men who do not meet the criteria are also arrested, including Some protestors.
The official decree on mobilization, signed by Putin, is concise and vague, fueling fears of a larger project.
In an apparent effort to calm the population, Putin told the Russian Security Council on Thursday that some mistakes had been made during the mobilization and said Russian men mistakenly called into service should be sent home.
Other efforts to quell the national panic included promises of high wages and benefits to those mobilized.
Russian authorities also began to push back some men from the border, citing mobilization laws that prohibited certain categories of men from leaving the country. They have also set up several temporary offices at border checkpoints, threatening to serve appeal papers on those seeking to leave.
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