After a seven-month hiatus, Aeroflot flights from Moscow to Phuket and Bangkok are scheduled to begin at the end of the month. This has been confirmed by Vladimir Sosnov, Russia’s consul general in Phuket, and by CNN correspondents who say tickets are indeed on sale in the Russian capital. There have been no direct flights since March 2022, largely because aviation spare parts have been hard to come by since the imposition of Western sanctions.
To date, around 90,000 Russians, mostly tourists or bona fide expats, have entered Thailand since the war in Ukraine began last February. This largely reflects travel difficulties, as air passengers generally have to first travel to countries – Turkey and the United Arab Emirates are examples – which offer visa-free entry to Russians and connecting flights to Bangkok. In 2019, before the Covid pandemic, almost a million Russians entered Thailand in a similar seven-month period.
Escapee Vadim is a 26-year-old Russian, currently residing in Pattaya, who says he fled Moscow via Turkey to avoid compulsory drafting into the Russian army. He says he expects more men, hoping to escape the draft, to arrive in Thailand once flights resume. “They are likely to be questioned by police in Russia before departure and they will not carry too much luggage to avoid suspicion.” But he expected many to pass. “In fact, Putin prefers people who oppose him to be out of the country.”
His colleague Alexei, 28, said Thailand had its pros and cons as a bolthole for project deniers. “Russians don’t need a visa to come here for 30 days and extensions are easy to get. On the other hand, the work permit rules here are very strict. He said he had been a server in Kazakhstan and Turkey, but that was impossible in Thailand. Alexei complained that he encountered some official hostility even in Pattaya. “Bank accounts are very difficult to open here and an official told me to forget the idea unless I could produce a 12 month rental contract. This kind of discrimination does not seem to apply to other nationalities.
Russian journalist Ekaterina Kogutov said the biggest problem for most escapees was how to support themselves abroad. “Some countries granted them refugee status, but others banned them or made it clear that there was no state support.” The Thai authorities do not provide any financial assistance. Ekaterina explained that many of the men who fled here worked remotely as under-the-radar digital nomads. Others were self-sufficient for now or received financial support from family in Russia.
Of course, most of the Russian escapees were transferred overland to neighboring countries willing to admit them. Those fleeing abroad by air are likely to be the most affluent or best connected and hundreds are known to have flown in private jets. But now that Thailand is becoming more accessible by air, and with a history of hosting one and a half million Russians in 2019, the arrival of more escapees is inevitable. A political statement from the Thai government is clearly overdue.