After Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the “partial mobilization” of the war in Ukraine, Russian airports and borders saw a large crowd of men of military age, who chose to go into exile rather than fight. fighting in which they did not believe.
Within days, the prices of airline tickets for destinations that can accept Russian citizens without visas rose to staggering numbers, amid difficulties in obtaining seats.
And the young Russian, Ilya Flaks, thought of another way to help his compatriots flee the country and decided to charter a private plane to Azerbaijan, even though he didn’t have the money for it, according to Bloomberg.
Vlaks fled Russia early after the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine and settled in the capital of Azerbaijan, Baku. After Flacks announced the mobilization of 300,000 troops to support the Russian war effort, Flacks began receiving increasing calls from his friends and acquaintances to get out of Russia.
The young Russian spent two days raising the money needed to charter a private plane from Azerbaijan after it cost its owners more than 100,000 dollars. .
Flax’s wife was shocked that he had squandered so much of their savings on the trip. But, he said, “we weren’t thinking about money at all. We wanted to help.”
Before the flight took off, the owners of the plane felt a slowdown in their lease payments, but Flax was able to meet the payment.
Indeed, Flax managed to rent the plane – the Airbus 318 – previously used by the Azerbaijani government for two flights, and equipped with 55 luxury seats. The passengers claimed that they were attending a business meeting in Baku.
Later, Flax posted an ad on Facebook and Telegram for the flight for people who wanted to travel on it at $2,500 per seat.
Although the price was not simple, it was also less than $5,000 for tickets to some destinations near Russia, such as Turkey and Montenegro, during those days after the mobilization was announced.
A Vlax assistant in Moscow arranged the trip after receiving the money from the passengers, and registered their names to confirm their presence on the plane.
To lend a touch of legitimacy to the trip, Flax told passengers that they had attended a conference and booked their tickets weeks in advance, but there were no guarantees that that pretense would stand up to heavy scrutiny by Russian authorities.
“I didn’t have time to discuss whether it wasn’t good,” says Flax. “We did it as a good deal for my friends and partners.”
After taking off from Azerbaijan, it landed at Vnukovo, southwest of Moscow, an airport built by Stalin for the Red Army, which switched to civilian use after World War II.
‘A terrible thing for Russia’
As the pilots waited for their flight plan to be approved, 50 men and a handful of women went to the departure lounge, amid instructions to prevent the recruits from escaping.
“Everyone was very nervous and thinking about how to answer potential questions,” says passenger Mikhail Kurt.
After everything went well, the plane finally took off from Moscow, bound for Baku, a three-hour flight.
When it landed, the passengers, including a cyber security specialist, cheered heartily after they managed to escape.
The next day Flax repeated the same journey. He says he finally sighed after the two flights landed, after sleepless nights and in anticipation of the success of this mission.
Months ago, he and his Azerbaijani business partner, Araz Mamet, opened a dedicated business space in Baku, and still had access to international banking services.
Flax and his team raced for days to clean and furnish dozens of empty apartments before heading to the airport to meet the new arrivals.
Mamet says he received an additional 600 inquiries from potential migrants in one of his Telegram chats, but he and Flax say they need to focus their energies on those who have already arrived.
Most of the passengers on the flights worked in the IT field, but they also included a rabbi, opera singer, actress, photographer, hairdresser and a senior manager at the Mariinsky Theater in Saint Petersburg.
The Kremlin has not released data on Russian desertions, but authorities in Kazakhstan and Georgia say at least 300,000 people have fled the country since Putin’s mobilization speech, in addition to the tens of thousands who left the country in the previous seven months.
“Russia did not lose on the battlefield,” says Mamet. “Russia lost at the airports and at the borders.”
Bloomberg says that these people usually do not have the wealth of an oligarchy, but their loss will surely have a negative impact on the country, as they are among the most ambitious and talented young professionals: software engineers, bankers, scientists and designers.
“The impact of leaving the brightest minds and devoting their talents to other countries will be dire for Russia in the long term,” said James Nixi, director of the Russia-Eurasia program at the Chatham House think tank in London. .
Entrepreneurs, and these talents, are creating Russian-populated business centers in the Caucasus and Central Asia – places long under Moscow’s control, and known in the post-Soviet era as “Near Abroad”.
Russians can generally enter without visas or much hassle – a major consideration given strict EU rules – and their native language remains a lingua franca.
New arrivals can represent a political burden and a potential economic driver for the countries they arrived in, as they risk creating diplomatic tensions between host governments and the Kremlin.
But those talents can access new capital, along with industry experience and skills that can help drive growth.
Many of them brought businesses with them, or established new businesses. Flax says 10 new businesses have already been established in his workplace.