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Russians desert to Turkey so as not to “die for Put…


Antalya (Turkey).- At the end of September, at Antalya airport, they walk through the arrivals gate smiling, pushing their luggage or dragging children, sometimes tired, sometimes overexcited, after them. Employees of Club Meds and large hotel chains rush on the travelers they have identified, place a bouquet of flowers in their arms and lead them to the parking lot.

In this joyous crowd, some stand out, young men with shifty eyes and quick steps, who decline any attempt to approach. Others, although apparently equipped for a stay on the Mediterranean beaches of this Mecca of Turkish tourism, nevertheless seem very unenthusiastic.

This is the case of Oleg, a solid guy in his thirties just arrived from the enclave of Kaliningrad, whose sad eyes redden when he talks about the war in Ukraine and the mobilization order announced on September 21 by Vladimir Putin. He had planned for a long time this ten-day vacation with his partner and a couple of friends, but he is now wondering if he would not do well to extend his stay indefinitely.

“I’m terrified of going back to Russia to have them put a gun in my hands, and send me to kill or die for Putin, for a war that revolts me, but I don’t see how I either could leave Russia, my family, my job. »

A dilemma which is that of many young travelers interviewed. Only Ruslan, a 29-year-old Muscovite, says he is ready, if necessary, to join the flags “to do one’s duty”even if he only half-approved of the war: “I am against any war of aggression, but it is complicated to disentangle the facts, there is so much misinformation…”

A beach in Antalya in August 2022. © Photo Diego Cupolo / NurPhoto via AFP

Since the announcement of the mobilization, supposed to concern only around 300,000 people who already have military experience, but which in reality seems to extend much more widely to the Russian population, tickets for Turkey have been snapped up at d gold, several thousand euros for a one-way ticket.

Faced with an explosion of requests, the national airline Turkish Airlines has announced that it does not intend to increase the number of its flights. Turkey, which does not require visas from Russian citizens, is one of the few countries to continue to serve Russian airports. Between 100 and 150 flights arrive in Turkey every day, more than half of them in Antalya, a region which traditionally welcomes several million Russian vacationers every summer.

Since the start of the war, many Russians who have chosen to leave their country have settled in the city or its surroundings. They are mostly young, English-speaking, and have jobs that allow them to work remotely.

A new wave of exiles

Impossible to know their number, but in the chic seaside resort of Kas, 60,000 inhabitants, the group recently created on Telegram messaging “Les Russes de Kas” has nearly 6,000 members.

Vera arrived there last month. Seated in the shady courtyard of a café, her anxiety, anger and shame that she says she feels towards her Ukrainian friends contrast with the ambient idleness. “I am unhappy in the middle of paradise”laments this lawyer who, to ward off her regular nightmares, is trying to help those who have remained in Turkey and who have been demonstrating in recent days. “I am in contact with the NGO OVD-Info and through it I provide legal advice to protesters and detainees”, explains Vera. She has also been working in recent days to provide invitations written by Turkish companies to men wishing to leave Russia to allow them to pass through customs checks in good conditions: “One of them just arrived yesterday, he is recovering from the panic he experienced. »

The land borders with Georgia and Kazakhstan, like planes bound for Armenia, Serbia or Turkey, are the scene of a scramble that could intensify in the future.

Evgeny had taken his precautions. This 30-year-old from Saint Petersburg left Russia several months ago with his wife and her children. “I was worried about the development of the situation and the growing totalitarianism of power. In 2021, I had applied for a passport, in case I had to leave the country urgently”remembers this graphic designer.

Several of his relatives would like to join them in Turkey. “But it’s not easy with ticket prices, full planes, and not everyone can work remotely. Others, like my mother, have to take care of their elderly parents. » If they are all happy to have been able to settle in Turkey, they consider their presence as temporary and hope to be able to benefit from a humanitarian visa to reach Europe. Failing that, others are considering going to Asia.

The hope of a visa for Europe

Some Nordic countries and the Baltic countries have made no secret of their hostility to welcoming Russian citizens fleeing compulsory conscription. “It is not the role of Lithuania or other states to save Russian citizens from mobilization”declared the Lithuanian Prime Minister, Ingrida Simonyte, estimating that they should have expressed their opposition to the war earlier and more openly or that they must remain in their countries in order, in an unlikely event, to overthrow their leader there. “We are not the only ones to have encouraged Putin by our passivity, the Europeans were also afraid of him, like us, and let him believe that everything was permitted”Evgeny defends himself.

Continuing his fragile geopolitical balancing act, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan returned from his August visit to Russia announcing the integration of Mir, a Russian credit card payment system with the country’s major banks, in order to simplify the life of Russian tourists and trade between the two countries. But following a fresh wave of US sanctions, two major Turkish private banks announced they were pulling out. They could be followed by public banking establishments, worried about possible American retaliation.

“It becomes complicated to withdraw money or open an account”worries Evgeny, who does not imagine returning to Russia, any more than the other exiles who try to drown their anxiety in the turquoise water. “This war has turned our lives upside down, but the real victims are the Ukrainians who are under the bombs and who never leave our thoughts”wishes to point out Vera.

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