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Sales of one-way tickets to Dubai double as Russians flee call-up

Russians flee their home country to avoid being called up to fight in the Ukraine war Reuters/Irakli Gedenidze
Russians cross into Georgia at the Verkhny Lars border station. Many thousands have left to avoid being called up to fight in Ukraine
  • Bookings rose 104% in a week after Putin announced mobilisation
  • Russians flock to countries that offer visa-free entry, including UAE

The number of Russians booking one-way tickets to Dubai doubled in a week after President Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilisation to fight in Ukraine, flight data has revealed.

Putin’s television address on September 21 prompted a spike in demand and web searches for flights out of the country. Travel analytics firm ForwardKeys has found that sales of one-way tickets from Russia to Dubai rose by 104 percent in the seven days after Putin’s announcement.

The total number of tickets issued for Russian outbound travel rose 27 percent week-on-week after the partial mobilisation. The share of one-way tickets jumped from 47 percent of the total the week before the announcement to 73 percent, according to ForwardKeys.

Sixty percent of tickets issued were for travel within 15 days of purchase; for tickets purchased in the previous week, the share was 45 percent.

The biggest increases in one-way ticket sales were for destinations where Russians have visa-free entry: Tbilisi in Georgia, Almaty and Astana in Kazakhstan, Belgrade in Serbia, and Baku in Azerbaijan.

Sales to visa-free destinations in the MENA also rose sharply, with Istanbul up 128 percent, Tel Aviv up 127 percent and Dubai up 104 percent.

Olivier Ponti, vice president of insights at London-based ForwardKeys, said: “These numbers are quite remarkable and correlate with reports at the time of a sudden increase in ticket sales.”

The price of one-way tickets to Dubai from Russia also skyrocketed after Putin’s address, which followed a Ukrainian counteroffensive that has regained vital territory. Flights to Dubai were selling for more than 300,000 roubles ($5,000), nearly five times the average monthly wage, Reuters reported on September 22.

The Kremlin has said it plans to call up some 300,000 reservists to fight in Ukraine, but reports in the Russian media suggest the number could be as high as 1.2 million. Government officials have denied the claim.

Sergei Shoigu, Putin’s defence minister, said in September that the mobilisation would be limited to those with experience as professional soldiers, and that students and conscripts would not be called up.

However, this has not allayed fears among the Russian public. More than 194,000 people have reportedly fled to neighbouring Georgia, Kazakhstan and Finland — most often by car, bicycle, or on foot. Finland has since closed its land border to “Russian tourists”.

Last week, the Russian authorities opened more military enlistment offices near the borders in an apparent effort to intercept some of the men of fighting age who were trying to leave.