Exiled Russian millionaire’s one-sentence rebuke to Putin laid bare

Russia: Putin’s portrait on fire in Dagestan

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Exiled Russian businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky has delivered a scathing rebuke to Vladimir Putin. The opposition activist commented on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Putin’s partial mobilisation, which saw Russians queuing up at the border to get out of the country after the call-up was announced.

A fierce critic of Putin, Mr Khodorkovsky was quoted by RUSI Associate Fellow Samuel Ramani who wrote in a tweet: “Mikhail Khodorkovsky on Vladimir Putin’s historical achievement: ‘Russia is most likely the first and only country in the world where people flee not because someone invaded their country, but because they invaded another country’.”

The rebuke comes as Kazakhstan said it is struggling to accommodate the tens of thousands of Russians who have fled their homeland since Moscow announced the military mobilisation last week.

Russian men started crossing the world’s second-longest land border en masse after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the mobilisation of reservists last week amid a stalled military campaign in Ukraine.

Russians do not need a visa or even a passport to enter Kazakhstan, just their Russian identity papers. The Russian language is also widely spoken in the country, which is home to a large ethnic Russian minority.

The Kazakh Government says almost 100,000 have crossed the border since the mobilisation announcement.

It has stretched the infrastructure of the vast but sparsely populated nation. Hotels and hostels are full with rent skyrocketing.

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, whose administration has refused to support what Russia calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine, urged patience and tolerance.

He said in a speech today (September 27): “A lot of people from Russia have come here over the last few days. Most of them were forced to leave by the desperate situation.

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“We must take care of them and ensure their safety. This is a political and humanitarian matter.”

Thousands of Russians have also fled into Mongolia across its northern frontier in a bid to evade conscription.

It adds to pressure on the Government in Ulaanbaatar and its efforts to distance itself from the conflict.

Asked about the prospect of Russia’s border being closed, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday: “I don’t know anything about this. At the moment, no decisions have been taken on this.”

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Russians were forced to queue for hours at the border crossing at Kyakhta in the ethnic Mongol province of Buryatia.

They said they had little choice after Putin announced the “partial mobilisation” of 300,000 soldiers.

Construction worker, Aleksey, 40, plans to stay in Mongolia until the situation in Russia improves. He said he would do whatever it takes to avoid the war.

He asked: “We are not afraid, but why do we have to fight in Ukraine, why?

“If other countries would attack Russia, we would fight for our country. But why are we going to Ukraine? For what?”

Though Mongolian citizens have demonstrated against Russia’s invasion, the Government itself has remained neutral.

Former President of Mongolia, Tsakhia Elbegdorj, urged Putin last week to end the conflict, adding ethnic Mongolians in Russia have been used as “cannon fodder” and killed in their thousands in Ukraine.

He said in an address shared on social media: “Since you [Putin] started this war, Russia has been drowned in fears, full of tears. Your mobilization brings oceans of suffering. Mr. President, stop your senseless killings and destruction.”

Meanwhile, referendums organised by Russia which could lead to its annexing 15 percent of Ukraine’s territory were due to end today. Voting in the Ukrainian provinces of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the east and southeast began on Friday.

At the weekend, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow would defend any territory it annexes using any weapons in its arsenal. Dmitry Medvedev, a former president who now serves as deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, said Russia had the right to defend itself with nuclear weapons if it is pushed beyond its limits and that this is “certainly not a bluff”.

Mr Medvedev said in a post on Telegram: “Let’s imagine Russia is forced to use the most fearsome weapon against the Ukrainian regime which had committed a large-scale act of aggression that is dangerous for the very existence of our state. I believe NATO would not directly interfere in the conflict even in this scenario. The demagogues across the ocean and in Europe are not going to die in a nuclear apocalypse.”

According to Russia’s nuclear doctrine, the president may use nuclear weapons if the state faces an existential threat, including from conventional weapons.

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