Russian Jews anxious about Putin's draft, men 18-65 forbidden to leave

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a partial military mobilization in Russia during a pre-recorded speech on Wednesday.

 A Russian state flag flies near a tower of the Kremlin behind trees in central Moscow, Russia September 21, 2022. (photo credit: EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA/REUTERS)
A Russian state flag flies near a tower of the Kremlin behind trees in central Moscow, Russia September 21, 2022.
(photo credit: EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA/REUTERS)

“Jews in Russia pretty much feel the same way that any Russian feels except for one exception,” said Rabbi Boruch Gorin, head the Public Relations Department of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Russia. “Many Jews actually have the opportunity to leave Russia because they have an Israeli passport or visa. Other people don’t have such a privilege.”

In a phone interview from Estonia on his way to Moscow, Gorin said that “nothing new really happened for the last half a year, yet this is a new stage of the panic.”

Gorin was speaking on a bus from Tallinn that will take him to Russia, since there are no more flights available. “All of the flights have been sold,” he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a partial military mobilization in Russia during a pre-recorded speech on Wednesday. The mobilization will begin immediately, and only reservists will be called up, with a focus on those with experience.

Putin said that militants in the Luhansk and Donbass Peoples Republics will be considered soldiers of the Russian Federation going forward.

A view shows captured Russian tanks with installed Ukrainian flags, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, near the town of Izium, recently liberated by Ukrainian Armed Forces, in Kharkiv region, Ukraine September 19, 2022. (credit: GLEB GARANICH/REUTERS)A view shows captured Russian tanks with installed Ukrainian flags, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, near the town of Izium, recently liberated by Ukrainian Armed Forces, in Kharkiv region, Ukraine September 19, 2022. (credit: GLEB GARANICH/REUTERS)

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu also spoke during the address, updating that 5,937 Russian soldiers have been killed in the invasion of Ukraine. According to the defense minister, a total of 300,000 soldiers will be called up during the partial mobilization. Shoigu estimated that there are about 25 million Russians in the country who could be called up if needed, but that students would not be subject to the mobilization, and conscripts would not be sent to the war in Ukraine.

How are Jews feeling about the news?

According to reports in Russian media outlets, men 18-65 will not be able to leave the country on Russian airlines unless they receive a special permit from the Defense Ministry.

Sources in the Jewish community of Russia say this is definitely a “dramatic” situation, yet they are still trying to assess how it will influence the community.

“If many Jews will be requested to join the army, or if the gates of the country will be closed, this is definitely a situation that we need to address differently,” said one source.

How can Jews get out of Russia?

“I’m afraid that the Iron Curtain is coming down again. Where has the Jewish Agency been until now? Where is the Israeli government and Prime Minister Yair Lapid? Why won’t he make difficult decisions and help tens of thousands of Russian Jews out of Russia?”

The Jewish Agency’s Global Center has received 80,000 calls from Russia and Belarus in recent months, and 40,000 applicants have received approval to make aliyah.

Approximately 2,000 new immigrants from Russia and Belarus have been arriving in Israel every month over the past few months, and many more would have arrived except there aren’t enough flights and personnel dealing with the paperwork.

In addition, the agency is abiding by Russian information laws and has not shared data about aliyah applicants with the main office in Israel since September 14.

The Jewish Agency’s offices in Russia are in the midst of establishing a local call center that will serve those interested in making aliyah, instead of the service provided by the agency’s Global Center in Jerusalem.

In addition, the agency has put 40 of its local employees in Russia on paid time off. These employees mainly facilitate the aliyah process from cities in Russia’s periphery.

The Jewish Agency confirmed the information on Monday, and said it was in the midst of “a process of reorganization.”

The question is how the agency will deal with such an influx of applicants, in a situation where tens of thousands of Russians are entitled to make aliyah according to Israel’s Right of Return.

Senior Israeli officials, including security experts, planned to meet on Wednesday evening to discuss the current situation in Russia and the aliyah process to Israel.