‘How to Leave Russia’ Top Google Trend as Putin Delays National Address

Russia saw a spike in citizens searching Google for how to leave the country ahead of a now-canceled national address from President Vladimir Putin, driving speculation that Moscow would escalate its war effort in Ukraine.

The phrase “how to leave Russia” surged in Google searches on Tuesday ahead of Putin’s much-anticipated speech, pointed out by the Mozhem Obyasnit Telegram channel. Putin’s rare national speech was abruptly rescheduled for Wednesday, as the Kremlin has signaled it’ll respond to losses in Ukraine with more aggressive approaches that could affect ordinary Russians.

Mozhem Obyasnit, founded by Russian dissidents and means “We Can Explain,” found that Google queries about how to leave the country reached a peak at 6 p.m. Moscow time after seeing a sharp increase earlier Tuesday. Residents of the Khabarovsk Territory, in Russia’s far east bordering China, were particularly interested in leaving, according to the channel.

Russian President Vladimir Putin

“The russians were given 12 hours of rest, so Google could answer all the questions, including the question of what is the average life expectancy of a russian soldier in Ukraine,” Ukraine’s Defense Ministry tweeted Tuesday.

Putin is preparing to address the country after Ukraine’s successful counterattack that’s retaken large swaths of the country’s Russian-occupied northeast while also advancing in the south near the city of Kherson.

Russia’s military has seen ongoing problems of troop losses and low morale after facing unexpectedly strong resistance in Ukraine. The Russian stock exchange tanked Tuesday over concerns of decreased energy exports and the possibility of a mass mobilization to turn the tide in Ukraine.

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Russian lawmakers on Tuesday advanced legislation stiffening penalties for deserting soldiers that also incorporates “mobilization, martial law and wartime” into the country’s criminal code.

Mozhem Obyasnit said in its post that Russia also saw a spike in Google searches for deferrals from military service.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov last week said a mobilization is not being considered, according to the state-run TASS news agency. But on Tuesday, legislative leader Valentina Matviyenko deflected a question about a mobilization, reported TASS.

Putin was expected to address the referendums in his Tuesday night speech that was canceled without explanation, according to Ukrainska Pravda.

Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Putin, sarcastically tweeted, “People unable to organize a speech, undertook to organize a mobilization. Oh well.)”

As Ukrainian forces press ahead with their counterattack, Kremlin-backed separatists in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions have scheduled referendums to join Russia this month. Russian-installed authorities in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia are also planning for similar referendums.

Newsweek has reached out to the Russian government for comment.

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