150,000 Russian Tourists Currently Outside The Country, Many Having Difficulty Getting Home

It’s seemed obvious for a few months that Russia would invade Ukraine. There was some chance Putin was bluffing, in order to extract concessions. But Russian demands were so exorbitant it was clear they knew they were asking for things they’d never be given, making the bluff scenario unlikely. And when concessions weren’t being made, Putin effectively backed himself into a position where he almost had to invade or lose face.

Still, even if conflict had become inevitable it seemed reasonable to bet that Russian victory would come quickly. It has for Russia in recent past, and Ukraine had shown itself weak in 2014 (they’ve spent the time since improving). And was a Western response even likely? Surely Germany wouldn’t line up against Russia – too dependent on the country for energy – so Europe wouldn’t be united.

So the world went about its business before the invasion, expecting events away from the Russia-Ukraine broder to be life as usual. Russians went on vacation just as Americans and Europeans did. There are as many as 150,000 Russian tourists currently overseas and many of those are in countries where airspace is closed to Russian airlines and in some cases vice versa.

Russians looking to return home can fly to (for instance) Istanbul or Dubai on a non-Russian airline, and pick up a Russian carrier if they need to from there. It’s even probably the obligation of the Russian government to run charter flights from major cities that they can still fly to in order to repatriate their citizens.

There are several elements to Western response: assist Ukraine, cripple Russia’s ability to finance its activities and supply a war, and disrupt Russian life. This last makes life difficult for both oligarchs – but it also makes life difficult for ordinary Russians.

The oligarchs:

And the gamers:

It’s an open question how much making life inside of Russia difficult matters for the outcome of the invasion. How likely is it that Putin can be reigned in? Does the opinion of ordinary Russians matter, and how much messaging gets through in the face of (both traditional and social) media there? Indeed, how many of the oligarchs are even in a position to do anything? It’s far from clear.

Sanctions hurt Westerners who had been doing business with Russia, who pay higher energy costs, and whose lives are interrupted. They’re also hard on ordinary Russians, in a way they may not be on Putin and Russian leadership. And they may not influence the outcome of events.

That’s not necessarily an argument not to do them. I do think in our rush to (rightly) side with a democracy against a foreign invader seeking to turn it into a vassal state, that it’s easy to ignore some of the human cost in the process. One small element of this is that ordinary people are trapped outside of their country, having difficulty making it make to loved ones, homes, and jobs.

It may well be necessary that airspace is closed, and global travel and commerce shut down, but it’s always also lamentable.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. If they can’t go back to that shithole country, it is a blessing in disguise for them

  2. Lamentable, yes. But it pales in comparison to the death and destruction being inflicted on Ukraine, a country whose only mistake was being the subject of Putin’s ire.

    Do I care about the Russian people? Yes, I care about all people. But death does not equate to inconvenience. If Russians have to be inconvenienced in order to even have a fleeting chance that it helps to save lives then so be it.

  3. Kinda like when you’re treated badly at work and come home and beat your dog. These people are victims, and being victimized by us.

    If we want to do something actually productive instead of vindictive, let’s offer them all asylum and citizenship in the West.

  4. The danger, difficulty, risk, and hardships faced by innocent people in Ukraine trying to escape Putin’s War far exceed those of people trying to get back in to Russia.

  5. @rufusw9: Well said!

    How many of us have immigrant ancestors (mine were Lithuanian) that fled the vicious, oppressive Russian regimes of the past? It took my great-grandparents (with 2 small children!) months to walk hundreds of miles from Vilnius to Bremen to board a ship bound for ‘freedom’.

    There occasions when I speak poorly of my country (US), what with its divisiveness, political boors, and cutthroat capitalism, all in a bubble of Jerry Springerism. But when push comes to shove, I am reminded that I have the choice to speak out without fear of reprisal, so yeah, I am grateful to be here.

  6. @FinnSailor The danger, difficulty, risk, and hardships faced by innocent people in Ukraine trying to escape Putin’s War far exceed those of people trying to get back in to Russia.

    True, but so what? A pretty weak justification for inflicting pain or misery on innocent people trapped in the middle of this through no fault of their own.

  7. Gary, there are hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians without a home to go back to because it’s been destroyed by the Russians.

    I guess you could spin that into a AirBnB piece, and then you could reflexively snark about cleaning fees.

    You were desperate to find a travel angle to write about and went with “stranded Russian tourists”.

    Your story is tone deaf and woefully inappropriate.

    Think next time

  8. Russians can still get back into Russia. They just need to fly to … gasp … Dubai first.

    Imagine saying it inflicts pain or misery to have to stop along the way from LA to Tijuana … in San Diego.

  9. The Russian people are not that innocent. They knowingly allowed Putin to pratice his “ways” without accountability. They reaped the benefits of his dictatorship – hence their “vacations”.

  10. Hey Gary, an idiotic and insensitive piece.

    No one gives a flying duck about the “human cost” of 150k stranded Russian tourists when 1m+ Ukrainian are refugees. Meanwhile innocent civilians still remaining in Ukraine are getting butchered with cluster bombs – including healthcare workers in hospitals and children in preschools.

  11. ex UA Plat is 100% correct. War is horrible and inflicts enormous pain to people across all sectors of life. Compared to the loss of life and home in Ukraine, it is pathetic to even make a comparison to the disruption of travel.
    There are people from around the world – not just Ukrainians – that are rushing to fight for Ukraine with the high risk of the loss of their own life because they value principle and freedom more than personal security.
    Never before has a war been transmitted in real time to the world and the Ukrainian people have won and will always win the hearts of the world because everyone inherently wants to be free.

    and, David S, the everyday Russian is not necessarily complicit. If you did research you would find that Putin has changed the Russian constitution to hold onto power. The collapse of the Russian economy might well push the Russian people to act; it is a shame there is not more focus on what is happening inside Russia but there are plenty of people that are sending enough info to release that the average Russian doesn’t support Putin and will pay a high economical and moral price for being called Russians, even if Ukrainians are losing far, far more

  12. @TimDunn

    100% agree. The Russian people are complicit until they act. So it is great that 150k Russian tourists can share the actual news and war crimes happening in Ukraine that otherwise Russian citizens are no longer getting from independent news sources (all of which have been now shut down). If the Russian people can be as brave as those civilians on the ground in Ukraine, they can force their will and remove Putin

  13. We left a bunch of Russians behind last week in Cancun.
    They now cannot get home.
    Normally I’d say “F” them. However, they did not legitimately elect their so called President.

  14. @David S The Russian people are not that innocent. They knowingly allowed Putin to pratice his “ways” without accountability. They reaped the benefits of his dictatorship – hence their “vacations”.

    About the same logic used by FDR to throw innocent Japanese into concentration camps after Pearl Harbor. Given the inability of most Americans to distinguish people from the governments of their ancestry, I wouldn’t be too surprised if the same thing happens now – and is already happening thanks to hateful views like this.

  15. No sympathy at all for any Russians- they brought this on themselves. I hope we continue to inflict as much pain as we possibly can against them. I’m currently in the Maldives and have heard plenty of the fat inconsiderate Russians talking incredibly loud on their phones about how they have lost lots of rubles but have plenty more and aren’t worried at all. They think this is all a joke. Until they feel more pain nothing will change sadly.

  16. Give me a break. I’m sick of hearing about the “innocent” Russian civilians. The Russian people willingly gave Putin his power, they tearfully speak of how Putin restored Russian greatness. They are no better than the German civilians who happily clapped–or indifferently watched–the Nazis march to domination. The Russian people are not “innocent” civilans and thankfully are now reaping what they had sowed.

    Oh, and let’s not pretend that the same blind allegiance to thuggery & tyranny isn’t happening in the US, as is evident with the startling number of Republicans defending Putin.

  17. 150 thousand Russian’s having a hard time getting back home, while their Presidents invades another Country, destroys property and injures and kills civilians. Life is very hard these days. Have another beer and wait this out. Cheers!

  18. If there is any discussion beyond the enormous suffering taking place by the Ukrainian people which is clearly front and foremost of this discussion, other aspects have to include
    1. A major US based global internet backbone has cut off Russia including many Russian government sites.
    2. Crude oil is holding above $110/bbl meaning it won’t come down any time soon. there is enormous amounts of economic activity including airline capacity that will be wiped out at those kinds of fuel levels.
    3. Wolfe Research has just revised its forecasts for all airlines it covers to reflect $100/bbl crude (again, it is higher than that right now) and expects United to burn more than $6 BILLION in cash this year with American at 3/4 of that level.
    4. The US actively supported the US airline industry during covid but very little capacity left the system other than what airlines chose to hold back. There is almost certain to be a major shakeout among US airlines in the next few years.

  19. Yea- sanctions have really hurt North Koreas ability to field an army and test nukes.

  20. Sanction russia, make them live in poverty, force them into being refugees in European countries. Not sure the logic behind this.

  21. Power-hungry, angry narcissists don’t typically care about the pain their actions cause others.

    And when times are extra tough — due to sanctions or whatever else — those at the top of the power structures tend to get control of the reduced pool of resources at the expense of the relatively powerless and even use that reduced flow of resources to further buttress their domestic domination over those instruments of power and maximize their leverage over the institutions of the state and over society writ large.

    While it’s possible that sanctions can cause a regime to eventually collapse or be overthrown from within, that can take a very long time or be very brutal and lead to rather ugly consequences that are even less manageable than the mess that preceded the heavy use of sanctions aimed at a country. Hopefully in this case, it goes faster than usual, but without the messy outcomes that at times follow from the collapse of an authoritarian regime in a state whose society as a whole is not committed to the values of representative liberal democracy.

  22. Another Gary Leff fail! Please, I could care less about Russians not getting home! Minor inconvenience compared to Ukrainians dying! As far as Russians having a choice and knowing many Russians, they don’t have a choice. There isn’t fair elections in Russia. I can assure everyone that the Russians on vacation, ex-Russia are far from poor. But again their opinions don’t matter.

  23. Mak never had it with his marbles, and his marbles are no less loose than before.

    Mak: “If we want to do something actually productive instead of vindictive, let’s offer them all asylum and citizenship in the West.”

    Really? Part of the problem with the EU up to this point is that it offered EU membership/citizenship (and other memberships to “the West”) to countries in Central and Eastern Europe where the local commitment to liberal democracy and respect for minority rights had not (and still has not) yet risen to match “the West”.

    It’s the combination of:

    a) the joint fear of Russia; and
    b) the “newer members” of “the West with their tribalism having identified their chose fellow travelers as “white” “Christians” “yearning for the benefits of being part of the EU/Schengen area”

    that has had them unify around a Biden Administration-led joint approach against Russia without the kind of sabotage that would have otherwise been typical even if the US had already gotten the Germans, French and Italians on the same page as the US.

  24. “Mak” says. “If we want to do something actually productive instead of vindictive, let’s offer them all asylum and citizenship in the West.”

    Did it ever occur to you that most of these travelers are well to do Russians as the average Russian cannot afford to fly internationally and that these people may not want asylum. ? Also there are many people waiting for years to legally emigrate to the US. They should not be leapfrogged by Russians simply because the Russians can’t immediately get back home.

  25. John B says “ Another Gary Leff fail! “. How is this a fail. He was simply stating his thoughts and opinions on the matter. Seems like it is either your way or the highway. Why monitor this blog if u don’t agree with anything that is said?

  26. I was hoping to find out if the Ritz-Carlton in Moscow on Tverskaya Street was charging an additional resort or destination fee when you use 40,000 Bonvoy points for reserving a superior, large guest room with a king bed and a courtyard view. It seems like an extraordinary bargain during the upcoming week of college spring break.

  27. @Ken A I will concede that you won View From the Wing today. Much better and more clever than the (mostly) not very thoughtful people looking to take out their impotent anger on innocent people – but hey, that’s the American Way™. Well done!

  28. I agree that the sanctions in general – and for the purpose of this discussion, restricting travel for civilians around the world – are ultimately ineffective and will just cause collateral damage that will further stoke inflation, hurt the post-pandemic economic recovery, and adversely affect the average person – yet have no effect whatsoever on the so-called “enemy”.

    And who is the “enemy” anyway? Why not China? Or Saudi?… Personally, I choose not to patronize the airlines of those countries or to visit there. But at the same time, I believe in freedom, including the freedom to travel, and that the choice should be up to the individual and not forced upon us by ours or any government.

  29. @CMorgan

    A fail because Leff is trying to insert his personal opinion for clickbait. The statements of sanctions hurting Westerners, hello, this is war! Do you want to send American’s youth to the Ukraine? Sanctions and arms are the best the West can do right now!

    “One small element of this is that ordinary people are trapped outside of their country, having difficulty making it make(sic) to loved ones, homes, and jobs.” Again, I don’t give a sh!t about Russians stuck outside of their country! These are not average Russians. They are far wealthier than the average Russian. Calling it “lamentable” is disgusting and giving comfort to Russians who are part of the regime.

    I think it is wrong to make clickbait from war!

  30. JohnB,

    May I suggest that the typical Russian tourist to India, Thailand, the UAE, Cyprus, Sweden or France is more likely more positively oriented toward “the West” than the average Putin supporter in Russia?

    Putin’s most solid popular base in Russia is on the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum. The kind of Russian people and places that are most rabidly Putin supporters have their mirror in the American people and places that are most rabidly Trump supporters.

    The rich Russians that are most on board with Putin have lots of de facto protection for their assets because they have played the corruption game “well” and have already pulled off the kind of structuring that means they are still going to have way more or life’s comforts than the average person in those countries where they play the dirty game “well”: the UK, the US, China, India, Israel, Turkey, Iran, the UAE and so on. The richest of the oligarchs flagged for sanctions are only the tip of a massively corrupt power and wealth structure.

  31. Wow, GU Wonder, you are still around.

    I actually had similar thoughts about Russians.

    Not sure how many Russians “voted” for Putin, but majority of American did not vote for Trump. We voted for “that woman” (the one who made Putin squirm more than any world leader in recent history).

    That said, I agree with Tim Dunn on logistics, and in terms of spreading resources, accommodating Russians who want to return home not take priority over helping Ukrainians get out (unless perhaps they are Russians looking to take advantage of Konanykhim’s offer).

  32. GU wonder. I was agreeing with your analogies until you had to mention Trump. Why is it that you insist on always bringing the former POTUS into every equation? Most Republicans and Democrats are on board with support for Ukraine and are solidly against what Putin has done. Did you not hear Mike Pence’s recent remarks.

  33. “And who is the “enemy” anyway? Why not China? Or Saudi?… Personally, I choose not to patronize the airlines of those countries or to visit there. But at the same time, I believe in freedom, including the freedom to travel, and that the choice should be up to the individual and not forced upon us by ours or any government.”

    First they came for the Russians, but I didn’t care because I wasn’t Russian. Then they came for the Chinese, but I didn’t care because I wasn’t Chinese. Then they came for the Saudis, but I didn’t care because I wasn’t Saudi. I think we know how the story ends – the bell tolls for thee!

    It should be easy for Americans to imagine how they might be treated if held accountable for the many crimes of their government, and should be even easier for most Europeans, many of whom capitulated in crimes against humanity in a far more tangible way than the average Russian does today with Putin — but its so easy to pile on and be part of the angry mob so long as your not the victim . . . yet.

  34. CMorgan,

    Because Trump is still very popular in the Republican Party despite the damage he did to the US, to US alliances and to US credibility on the world stage.

    When the many Republican worshipers of their Lord Trump recognize their Putin-loving former American President as someone to throw under the bus proverbially-speaking, then we will be one step closer to Trump not being an American problem beyond that which he still represents.

  35. You and I will never agree on this. Vilifying Trump as the cause of all ills is irresponsible at best. Funny how the left is still infatuated with our former POTUS. Also funny how Putin waited until Trump was out of office to invade Ukraine. If I were you I would stop focusing on Trump and pay attention to the many other problems the current administration and party is facing or you will have a bloodbath in the upcoming midterm elections.

  36. No one here vilified Trump as the cause of all ills. Trump is representative of a lot of what is sick in the country and in the world; and he’s a cause of some ills in the world; but nowhere except in your own imagination has he been vilified as the cause of all ills. You are beating a straw-man erected by your own imagination, but no amount of misinformation will make it any less impotent than it already is.

    Putin never waited until Trump was out of office to invade Ukraine. Ukraine has been under repeated Russian invasion efforts during the Trump Administration too. Remember that notorious 2019 Trump call where Trump didn’t want to supply Ukraine with Stingers and Javelins because Zelensky wouldn’t trump up Ukrainian criminal charges against Hunter Biden? Ukraine needed those items in 2019 too because Putin never quit on his on-going invasion of the Ukraine even after Putin apologist-and-suck-up Trump became President in January 2017. I understand such facts are inconvenient for the worshipers of your Lord Trump, but so be it.

    The US mid-term elections are a lesser concern than what the present and those elections may mean for the future of liberal democracy in the world in an era where people like your Lord Trump and his worshipers are hell-bent on undermining democracy from within and without as long as their favorite kleptocratic, self-dealing authoritarian is in charge.

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