TBILISI (Reuters) – A month has passed since Russia announced the completion of the partial mobilization of its troops to invade Ukraine. But many Russian men who fled to neighboring Georgia to escape the call-up say they are in no hurry to return home.
On September 21, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilization order following the withdrawal of Russian troops from parts of Ukraine. Fear of being sent to the front lines has driven tens of thousands of men of eligible ages to countries such as Georgia, Armenia and Kazakhstan.
More than 110,000 Russians fled to Georgia in 2022, according to statistics released by the Georgian government. While these moves have brought about a boom in Georgia’s economy, they have also sparked a backlash within the country, where anti-Russian sentiment is strong.
A month after Russian President Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Shoigu announced the completion of the rally, many displaced Russians say they won’t be returning home anytime soon.
“First and foremost, we have to end the conflict,” said Emile, 26, a game developer. He said he spent two days queuing at the border to leave Russia. In an interview in Tbilisi, he said:
“Everybody is at risk, especially men. I put my own safety first. Of course I don’t want to go back. I want freedom and peace of mind.”
The Russian government has not withdrawn the mobilization order itself, and there is widespread speculation that additional mobilizations may be issued without prior notice.
“I have a vague idea of how I would like to go back to Russia. said Slava, 28, who works in the mobile game industry.
“I’m going to keep an eye on what’s going on in Russia. Except for a few things, I’m willing to go back. I love living in Russia and I love Russia.”
But the influx of relatively wealthy Russians into a country with a weaker economy than Russia, with a population of just 3.7 million, has created tensions.
“Some say things are out of control,” said Salome Samadashvili, a Georgian opposition lawmaker, in front of the Ukrainian flag in her office.
Georgia’s Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions are effectively ruled by Russian-backed separatists. In 2008, Russia also briefly intervened in other parts of Georgia, citing both regions as being threatened by the Georgian government.
Samadashvili said he feared Putin could use the pretext of “protecting” Russians in Georgia to expand his invasion of Georgia, as he did during the invasion of Ukraine.
Many Georgians believe that one-fifth of the country is under Russian occupation, and such complaints have been voiced during protests.
Many Russians who have come against the war and Mr Putin’s autocratic rule in Russia resonate with this message. Some have decided to settle in Georgia.
“I decided to move because I felt more free,” said Denis Shebenkov, an entrepreneur who moved to Tbilisi in March.
Shebenkov started his coffee business in Tbilisi in June. Last month it closed its original coffee shop in St. Petersburg, Russia.
“When I think about the attitude of the police in St. Petersburg and what the municipal government and authorities were doing, I have no desire to go back.”