Russian population divided over war, tens of thousands seek exile in neighboring countries, expert says

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Russians are split over the Kremlin’s war against Ukraine, and tens of thousands of Russians have already sought exile in neighboring countries, a leading scholar on Russian studies told Fox News.

Russians are fleeing the country in opposition of the conflict, according to Marlene Laruelle, who heads the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at George Washington University. She said the sanctions have also already started to affect the general population and warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin may punish the citizenship if he faces significant dissent.

“The Russian population is very divided toward the war,” Laruelle told Fox News. She said a poll taken inside Russia during the first days of the war showed 60% support among the population, but cautioned that it’s likely much lower.

“They are supporting what they are told with the war and on the Russian state media,” Laruelle said. “If people knew really about the violence, about the attacks against civilians, I think they will be probably largely less supportive.”

Since the war began 22 days ago, millions of Ukrainians have fled to neighboring countries to seek refuge, according to the United Nations. Likewise, tens of thousands of people have fled Russia over the last two weeks, Laruelle told Fox News.

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“You now have a huge Russian kind of minority in exile in Armenia and Georgia, in the Baltic states,” she said. “All of these Russian liberals or those who were against the war are trying to flee.”

Firefighters climb a ladder while working to extinguish a blaze in a destroyed apartment building after a bombing in a residential area in Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, March 15, 2022. Russia's offensive in Ukraine has edged closer to central Kyiv with a series of strikes hitting a residential neighborhood as the leaders of three European Union member countries planned a visit to Ukraine's embattled capital. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

Firefighters climb a ladder while working to extinguish a blaze in a destroyed apartment building after a bombing in a residential area in Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, March 15, 2022. Russia’s offensive in Ukraine has edged closer to central Kyiv with a series of strikes hitting a residential neighborhood as the leaders of three European Union member countries planned a visit to Ukraine’s embattled capital. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
(AP)

Western intelligence estimated before the war began that Kyiv could fall to Russia within three days. But three weeks into the war, the Ukrainian government still controls the capital city.

Laruelle told Fox News that Putin’s failures in Ukraine are likely the result of his own doing.

Russian President Vladimir Putin listens to the head of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs Alexander Shokhin during their meeting in Moscow, Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin listens to the head of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs Alexander Shokhin during their meeting in Moscow, Russia
(Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

“He was given … bad information, and I think that’s a very typical feature of an aging authoritarian leader living in a more and more isolated way,” she said.

“We know that he was very, still very afraid of COVID,” she continued. “He has spent the last two years really in deep isolation, both physically but also probably politically.”

The United States and other countries have imposed crippling sanctions against Russia since the war began.

Laruelle believes the sanctions are starting to take hold. She said basic items such as diapers and medication are already missing from store shelves.

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - MARCH 16 (RUSSIA OUT): A woman looks at empty shelves in the sanitary napkin section at a shopping mall on March 16, 2022, in Moscow, Russia. Many worldwide brands have suspended any investment and sales in Russia over its military invasion on Ukraine. 

MOSCOW, RUSSIA – MARCH 16 (RUSSIA OUT): A woman looks at empty shelves in the sanitary napkin section at a shopping mall on March 16, 2022, in Moscow, Russia. Many worldwide brands have suspended any investment and sales in Russia over its military invasion on Ukraine. 
(Photo by Konstantin Zavrazhin)

“The sanctions are impacting the capacity of Russian citizens to withdraw money,” Laruelle told Fox News. “A lot of things that are necessary for everyday life are already missing, even in big cities like Moscow.”

Laruelle told Fox News it’s not just the Russian population that’s getting squeezed by the sanctions.

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - MARCH,15 (RUSSIA OUT): A man looks to the screen displaying the rates of U.S. Dollar and EURO to Russian Ruble at the bank at a shopping mall, March 15, 2022, in Moscow, Russia. McDonald's closed all its restaurants, KFC suspended any investment in Russia as a result of the U.S. and EU economic sanctions.

MOSCOW, RUSSIA – MARCH,15 (RUSSIA OUT): A man looks to the screen displaying the rates of U.S. Dollar and EURO to Russian Ruble at the bank at a shopping mall, March 15, 2022, in Moscow, Russia. McDonald’s closed all its restaurants, KFC suspended any investment in Russia as a result of the U.S. and EU economic sanctions.
(Photo by Konstantin Zavrazhin)

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The Russian government probably has “money to run for a few weeks, a few months, but not for a very, very long time,” she said.

Dr. Marlene Laruelle serves as the Director of the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at George Washington University

Dr. Marlene Laruelle serves as the Director of the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at George Washington University
(Fox News Digital)

Putin may face serious political troubles at home because of the sanctions, according to Laruelle. She warned that if the Kremlin starts to lose too much public support, the response will be to punish the population.

“The legitimacy of the regime will be more and more diminished, and therefore the repressive tools will be more and more activated against the population, especially if the sanctions continue,” Laruelle told Fox News. “Then the discontent will be becoming really, really high.”

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