Russia saw a spike in citizens searching Google for how to leave the country ahead of a now-cancelled national speech by President Vladimir Putin, fueling speculation that Moscow would escalate its war efforts in Ukraine.
The phrase “how to leave Russia” rose in Google searches Tuesday ahead of Putin’s much-anticipated speech, pointed out by the Mozhem Obyasnit Telegram channel. Putin’s rare national speech was abruptly moved to Wednesday, as the Kremlin has indicated it will respond to losses in Ukraine with more aggressive approaches that could hit ordinary Russians.
Founded by Russian dissidents and meaning “We can explain,” Mozhem Obyasnit found that Google inquiries about how to leave the country peaked at 6 p.m. Moscow time after soaring earlier Tuesday. Residents of the Khabarovsk area, in Russia’s far east, bordering China, were particularly interested in leaving, according to the channel.
“The Russians were given 12 hours of rest so that Google could answer all questions, including what is the average life expectancy of a Russian soldier in Ukraine,” the Ukrainian defense ministry said. tweeted tuesday.
Putin is preparing to address the country after Ukraine’s successful counter-attack that has recaptured large parts of the Russian-occupied northeast of the country and is also advancing in the south near the city of Kherson.
The Russian military has seen ongoing problems with troop losses and low morale after unexpectedly strong resistance in Ukraine. The Russian stock market collapsed on Tuesday amid concerns over reduced energy exports and the possibility of a mass mobilization to turn the tide in Ukraine.
Russian lawmakers on Tuesday introduced legislation that tightens penalties for deserting soldiers, including “mobilization, martial law and wartime” in the country’s criminal code.
Mozhem Obyasnit said in his post that Russia also saw a spike in Google searches for military service deferrals.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said last week that a mobilization is not being considered, according to state news agency TASS. But on Tuesday, legislative leader Valentina Matviyenko turned down a question about a mobilization, TASS reported.
Putin was expected to discuss the referenda in his Tuesday night speech, which was canceled without explanation, according to Ukrainska Pravda.
Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Putin, sarcastic tweeted“People who were unable to organize a speech promised to organize a mobilization. Oh well.)”
As Ukrainian forces continue their counterattack, Kremlin-backed separatists in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions have scheduled a referendum to join Russia this month. The Russian-installed authorities in Kherson and Zaporizhzhya are also planning similar referendums.
News week has contacted the Russian government for comment.