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Russians flee by boat to Alaska after Putin’s military mobilization

The incident underscores the lengths to which some Russians have gone to avoid being called up as Ukraine’s military inflicts heavy losses

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu attend a military exhibition in Moscow in August. (Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)
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Two Russian nationals fleeing President Vladimir Putin’s call-up of military reservists landed by boat on a remote Alaskan island in the Bering Sea and are seeking asylum in the United States, the state’s two senators and U.S. government officials said Thursday.

The unusual incident highlights the lengths some Russians have gone to avoid a mobilization of up to 300,000 as Putin’s military, having suffered heavy losses in Ukraine, has made multiple retreats in recent weeks amid an aggressive offensive push by Ukrainian forces. An estimated 200,000 Russians have fled since the call-up.

The two appeared this week at a beach near Gambell, a tiny community on the northwest tip of St. Lawrence Island about 40 miles from mainland Russia, where they reported having fled “to avoid compulsory military service,” a spokesperson for Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) told the Associated Press.

Murkowski and fellow Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan said the incident has exposed a need of greater security in the Arctic, where Russian military ships and aircraft have increasingly asserted their presence. Seven military vessels from Russia and China were spotted in the Bering Sea last month sailing in international waters.

“We are actively engaged with federal officials and residents in Gambell to determine who these individuals are, but right now, we already know that the federal response was lacking,” Murkowski said. “Only local officials and state law enforcement had the capability to immediately respond to the asylum seekers, while Customs and Border Protection had to dispatch a Coast Guard aircraft from over 750 miles away to get on scene.”

The Coast Guard referred questions to the Department of Homeland Security, which said the Russians were transported to Anchorage for processing.

Sullivan said in a statement that the incident made clear that “the Russian people don’t want to fight Putin’s war of aggression against Ukraine.”