Demand for seats on private jets has boomed in Moscow after Vladimir Putin ordered the first mobilisation since the second world war and wealthy Russians look for a way out of the country amid reports that authorities plan to close the borders to men of mobilisation age.
Passengers are said to be predominantly heading to Armenia, Turkey and Azerbaijan, which allow Russians visa-free entry. They are paying between £20,000 and £25,000 for a seat on a private plane, while the price to rent an eight-seater jet ranges from £80.000 to £140,000, which is many times more expensive than the normal fare.
“The situation is absolutely crazy at the moment,” said Yevgeny Bikov the director of a broker jet company, Your Charter. “We would get 50 requests a day; now it is around 5,000.”
The Kremlin’s decision to announce a partial mobilisation has led to a rush among men of military age to leave the country, sparking a new, possibly unprecedented brain drain. Miles-long traffic jams have formed at Russia’s border crossings, while most one-way commercial plane tickets have sold out for the coming days.
Bikov said his firm had started to charter larger commercial planes in an effort to meet the demand and bring down prices. “But we simply cannot find enough spots for everyone,” he said, adding that the cheapest seat on a chartered commercial plane to Yerevan was priced at about 200,000 rubles (£3,000).
FlightWay, which offers private jet flights, said it was experiencing an increase in requests for one-way flights to Armenia, Turkey, Kazakhstan. “The demand has increased by 5o times,” said Eduard Simonov, the company head.
He said the availability of jets for rent was severely limited after the EU and UK introduced sanctions on Russia shortly after the start of the conflict that prohibited the leasing or insuring of aircraft for use in Russia.
“All the European private jet firms have left the market. There is more demand than supply now and the prices are through the roof compared with six months ago,” Simonov said.
It is not only the very rich looking to make use of private jets, with some companies chartering planes to fly out their male staff. According to the Russian business outlet Kommersant, one video game design company in Moscow chartered an entire flight to get employees out of the country.
“We are getting a completely new client base, companies as well as people who never flew private before,” Simonov said. “There are many who had some extra money left and are looking to get away.”
There are widespread fears in Russia that the Kremlin plans to close its borders this week.
Independent human rights groups have said that since Sunday border guards at Russia’s only operational crossing point with Georgia have been stopping some people from exiting, citing the law on mobilisation.
Asked about the possibility of border closures in a call with reporters on Monday, the Kremlin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said: “I don’t know anything about this. At the moment, no decisions have been taken on this.”
Russia was already set to lose 15% of its millionaires this year, according to one study, as its wealthiest citizens move abroad. The mobilisation is likely to deepen this outflow, potentially exacerbating the damage to Russia’s economy.
“Most of our male younger clients left when Putin announced the mobilisation last week,” said one staffer at a luxury concierge service company in Moscow. “I used to be calling up restaurants and bars on the Patriarch Ponds to book tables for them,” he said, referring to an upmarket neighbourhood in central Moscow. “Now, all I do is scroll through flight aggregators to get the last plane seat for them to Yerevan.”
The exodus of Russia’s rich and powerful could fuel some of the anger observed in the poorer areas of the country that appear to be disproportionately affected by the conscription.
A recent prank call involving Peskov’s son highlighted the belief held by many that senior Russian officials and their children will not be drafted to fight in Ukraine.
In the call, orchestrated by two activists linked to the jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Nikolai Peskov is heard saying he will “obviously not” enlist in the army when asked to report to the military commissariat at 10am the next day.
“You must understand it is not right for me to be there. I have to resolve this on a different level,” Nikolai Peskov is heard saying.
When asked about the phone call, his father said he was “aware of it” and claimed that the full transcript had not been published.
The Guardian has seen evidence that the son of one prominent Duma member, an official who frequently makes anti-western and patriotic statements, left the country on a flight to Istanbul on Saturday. According to text messages reviewed by the Guardian, the Duma deputy escorted his son to an airport in Moscow to ensure he would be let out of the country.
“The great escape,” said one Snapchat story sent to a private group by the son on the plane to Turkey.