President Putin’s partial mobilization is underway, but the scope remains unclear. Technically, it is a draft for those with previous army experience although reports from some Russian cities, especially in the Siberian east, suggest it is more of a 100 percent policy. As many Russians try to flee the country, airlines report a lack of capacity whilst several western countries with land borders have closed their frontiers.
Russians departing by air in an emergency need flight to countries which don’t require a Russian visa and are friendly to them. Popular choices have included Turkey, Dubai, Armenia and the former Soviet republics known as the Stans. Direct flights, as reported by the popular online ticket agency Aviasales, are full even though prices are escalating daily. A single, economy-class journey to Dubai has escalated beyond US$5,000.
Thailand looks attractive as Russians obtain 30 days (soon to be 45 days) visa exempt on arrival by air, whilst the Thai tourist authorities are looking to expand any and all international customers. There are currently no direct flights between Moscow and Bangkok, whilst Aeroflot’s intention to restart the route to Phuket is only scheduled to begin late next month.
Thai Airways suspended its direct Moscow route earlier in the summer, allegedly because of the lack of spare parts in Russia caused by western sanctions. There are rumors of charter flights from various Russian cities to Bangkok and U-tapao, but skyscanners say no tickets are yet available. One of the problems with charter flights is that passengers are expected to return home on the pre-arranged flight, whereas the latest Russian travellers may be looking for an extended stay. However, Thai visa rules are certainly flexible enough to create extensions at the drop of a hat.
Another looming issue is whether the Russian authorities will allow unrestricted travel. Although Aeroflot claims to be selling tickets to one and all, whilst the defence minister Sergei Shoigu says there are no limits in force, some airlines in Moscow are already notifying clients that they will stop selling tickets to any male 18-65 without a pass from the Ministry of Defence.
Officers at Chonburi Immigration say there has not yet been a significant uptake in the number of arriving Russians. A couple from Moscow told Pattaya Mail they had travelled indirectly via the Middle East to escape conscription. A Russian woman, who happened to be visiting relatives in southern China, said she had used the China-Laos rail express and crossed into Thailand via the Friendship Bridge at Vientiane. A busy agency next to Jomtien immigration bureau said there have been several enquiries from Russian arrivals asking about the Elite and 10-year residency visas.