'Thousands' of Russians flee amid fears Putin will declare martial law after protests

3 March 2022, 15:07 | Updated: 3 March 2022, 20:00

Putin is feared to be preparing the introduction of martial law
Putin is feared to be preparing the introduction of martial law. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

Fears are growing Russia could impose martial law on the country after a wave of mass protests against the invasion of Ukraine.

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In a society where protest against the Kremlin can result in tragic consequences for demonstrators, such a move would tighten restrictions even further – with speculation they would stretch to food and money.

Reports say thousands of people have fled as rumours about tough new laws grew this week.

It comes as Moscow took steps to restrict the ability of its citizens to try and flee the country, which has been battered by economic sanctions from the West in response to its war.

Protests have been seen throughout cities in Russia, unconvinced by their government's information campaign, which has tried to frame its invasion against a democratic state as a "special military operation" to "demilitarise" and "denazify" Ukraine.

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The EU has picked up speculation of the introduction of martial law on social media and an official told Reuters on Thursday: "As is the tragic loss of young lives killed in the military conflicts, with Russian mothers having to learn about the loss of their sons.

"So it is something we're conscious of. And it's something we’re worried about."

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The Kremlin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed claims the Kremlin wants to introduce harsh laws on the Russian population, or introduce a ban stopping men leaving Russia.

On the same day, one of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy's advisers claimed he thought martial law could be approved on Friday – potentially leading to a ban on protests, Russians being disconnected, and measures on food and finance.

Some oligarchs have called for a halt to the fighting. The Russian oil giant Lukoil joined in on Thursday.

The Telegraph reported that Russian citizens were banned from leaving Russia with more than £7,500 after the unprecedented sanctions against the country.

However, thousands have already left.

The West has imposed measures on Putin, oligarchs close to his government and cut some Russian banks off from the international transactions system, SWIFT.

The Telegraph said cash machines have been running out of US dollars.

Estimates on Wednesday put the number of people arrested in anti-war protests across Russia at 6,500, while the opposition figure Alexei Navalny called for daily demonstrations against Putin.