A month after Russia said it had ended a recruitment campaign for its war in Ukraine, men who fled to neighboring Georgia to avoid conscription say they are in no rush to return home.
Russia announced the call-up on September 21 after suffering setbacks on the battlefield – a move that has prompted hundreds of thousands of draft-age men to head to Georgia, Armenia and Kazakhstan to avoid being sent to the front. More than 110,000 Russians have fled to Georgia this year, Georgian government statistics show – an influx that has fueled both an economic boom and resentment in a country where anti-Russian sentiment is rife.
Despite Russian President Vladimir Putin and his defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, announcing the end of the draft a month ago, many say he is unlikely to return home anytime soon. “First of all, the conflict must end,” said Emil, a 26-year-old game developer who spent two days in line at the border to leave Russia.
“It’s got to a stage where everyone is at risk – especially men… I put my safety first. Of course I don’t want to go back to a country where the police can arrest me simply for I passed them by. I want freedom, to feel safe,” he said in an interview in Tbilisi. The Kremlin’s refusal to rescind an official decree ordering the mobilization fueled fears that new calls could be announced without warning.
“I have a very vague idea of what would have to happen in Russia for me to want to go back there. But for now, I rented an apartment in Tbilisi for six months and registered a business. I will be here for the next period. six months,” said Slava, a 28-year-old who also works in the mobile game industry. “I will monitor what is happening in Russia. Of course, I would like to go back because – apart from certain aspects – I liked it there and I love Russia.”
However, the arrival of so many relatively wealthy Russians in a relatively poor country of just 3.7 million has created tension. “There is a perception in society that the situation is out of control,” said opposition lawmaker Salome Samadashvili, speaking in front of a Ukrainian flag in her office.
Russian-backed separatists control two breakaway regions of Georgia – Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In 2008, Moscow said they were under threat from the Georgian government, and they briefly invaded other parts of Georgia. Samadashvili said he feared Putin could use the pretext of “protecting” Russians in Georgia as grounds for another invasion, as he did in Ukraine.
In what has become a common protest song, many Georgians say they believe a fifth of their country is occupied by Russia. Many of the Russian arrivals — who oppose both the war and Putin’s repression at home — are sympathetic to this message, and some are putting down roots.
“We made the decision to move … so we could feel freer,” said Denis Shebenkov, an entrepreneur who moved to Tbilisi in March. In June he opened a coffee business in Tbilisi, and last month he closed his original cafe in St. Petersburg.
“When I remember how the police in St. Petersburg behave or what the administration and the city government do, I don’t want to go back there at all,” he said.
(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)