Putin no longer lets Russia’s top people travel abroad

Before the war, Russian officials regularly went abroad for vacations. Now the Kremlin is probably too afraid of defectors.

Hundreds of thousands of Russians have fled their homeland since the invasion of Ukraine, but the way abroad is all but blocked for elites in state and society. Since the beginning of the war, the Kremlin has put in place a strict system to control the travel of important officials and business leaders, according to research by the independent Moscow Times.

“No one can go anywhere without individual permission,” a senior Russian official told the newspaper anonymously. Holiday trips and trips for private reasons are now almost forbidden for officials. The travel restrictions are an attempt to prevent “officials from defecting,” said former KGB agent Gennady Gudkov. To make the system watertight, the Kremlin has come up with various controls.

“It’s just annoying”

Even before the war, civil servants had to have their direct superiors approve trips abroad. Now, on top of that, the next higher official has to approve the trip as well. “Despite the war, Putin sometimes has to personally go through these lists and see who wants to go where and for what reason,” a longtime Putin confidant reported anonymously to the Moscow Times. “The decision to do this was made at the top of the Kremlin.”

But even those who get Putin’s permission are not yet out of the country. The domestic secret service FSB also decides whether someone is allowed to travel or not. The FSB takes the passports of high officials and important officials in advance, an anonymous source in the Kremlin told the newspaper. The FSB also keeps a database of important people. Below each entry is a box that must be ticked in order for the person to travel at all.

An official of the newspaper reports how four months ago he wanted to go on a vacation trip abroad from a Moscow airport, as he had done many times before in previous years. The customs officer then disappeared for an hour with his passport. Then he was told that he was not allowed to travel: “Please return to your duties,” the officer said. The ban on leaving the country has sparked resentment among the spoiled Russian elite: “It’s just annoying.”

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