YOU couldn’t buy a plane ticket out of Russia for love nor money yesterday. One-way tickets were going like snaw aff a dyke apparently as swathes of the Russian people woke up to the realisation that President Vladimir Putin’s “special military operation” in Ukraine wasn’t really that at all.

The rouble appeared to have finally dropped that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was, in fact, a full-scale war that even more of them would now be expected to fight in.

That for seven long bloody months now, so many ordinary Russians have gone along with the Kremlin’s lies about what is really happening in Ukraine stems largely from the fact that anyone who called it a war risked years in prison.

But, like so many of the lies told by the Kremlin over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it has proved unsustainable. That much became fully evident when Putin yesterday made a rare, televised address to the nation that significantly raised the stakes in the war by declaring that Russia’s armed forces would immediately call up its reserves.

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As the announcement came, Putin’s henchmen were at instant pains to point out that it was only a “partial” mobilisation. In fact, you could sense the pre-emptive tone in Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu’s pre-recorded statement that aired after Putin’s announcement.

Here was a man trying to keep the lid on things by reassuring Russia’s citizens that Moscow would only call up reserves, rather than deploy a conscript army.

“These are not people who’ve never seen or heard anything about the army,” Shoigu reassured. “Let me pre-empt questions. We’re not talking about the mobilisation of any students… They can calmly keep going to class,” Shoigu went on.

But if sales of one-way plane tickets out of Russia were anything to go by, many Russians, it seems, have had enough of the Kremlin’s lies. They sense it’s only a matter of time before a war many thought could be kept at bay from directly impacting on their lives does just that. The flights out of Russia and what they cost tell us a lot about those Russians for whom the war is a real threat and those who can afford to avoid it.

Direct flights from Moscow to Istanbul in Turkey and Yerevan in Armenia, both destinations that allow Russians to enter without a visa, were sold out. Meanwhile, the cheapest flights from Moscow to Dubai – a favourite destination for Russia’s elites trying to sit out the war – were costing more than 300,000 roubles (£4300), about five times the average monthly wage.

Yesterday’s announcement by Putin without doubt marked a significant moment in this war, upping the ante on many fronts.

As well as calling up reserves, the Russian leader also indicated that Moscow would probably annex large swathes of occupied Ukraine’s territory. This would be done through a series of sham referenda, allowing people to vote on being part of Russia, albeit in heavily staged managed elections in occupied parts of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia that are, at present, under Moscow’s control.

Putin’s ploy here is obvious whereby annexing such territories after a rigged vote could allow the Kremlin to claim that Nato arms provision to Ukraine amounted to an attack on Russia itself.

Putin yesterday shifted the ground on the wider geopolitical front too by again using thinly veiled threats of nuclear escalation in what he described as an existential struggle for Russia’s survival against a “hostile West”.

“If there is a threat to the territorial integrity of our country, and for protecting our people, we will certainly use all the means available to us – and I’m not bluffing,” Putin warned.

But despite the tough-talking in his address, this all still pointed to a man who if not yet on the ropes, is certainly one in trouble in the Russian political ring.

There’s simply no escaping the fact that the call for mobilisation and the desperate referenda proposed for areas of occupied Ukraine – which few in the international community will ever recognise – show signs of Russia’s weakness.

There was a time when Putin would have done anything to avoid mobilisation, not least given that previous polls showed barely 10% of Russians showed support for it.

Mobilisation is a wake-up call to those Russians who thought themselves indifferent, protected from or far removed from the war. Those Russian ultranationalists and hardliners breathing down Putin’s neck, pressuring him into total mobilisation have become the Russian president’s biggest threat right now.

And anyway, just by throwing more personnel into the war doesn’t mean Russia will perform any better on the battlefield than it has to date with its regular and mercenary forces. In fact, the opposite is likely to prove the case.

As the Kyiv-based political commentator Paul Niland and others pointed out yesterday, recruitment will be a problem, as will training and equipping such Russian reservists. Then there is the persistent problem of failing to have a coherent strategy on the ground. Russia’s commanders to date have shown themselves more adept at organising looting sprees than showing any tactical initiative.

And above all, on top of this, the Ukrainian army will be the Russians’ biggest problem. There remains a vast difference in motivation between an army cajoled or press-ganged into service and one made up primarily of those prepared to give all to defend their families, land and freedom.

Russians, slowly but surely, are starting to realise this over the war in Ukraine. As many vote with their feet on the battlefield, retreating wherever and whenever they can, or jump on planes to get out of the country in the knowledge that the war is deepening, they must sense also that their president might just be entering his political endgame.

As Ivan Krastev, the political scientist and chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, observed recently, “while ‘a special military operation’ is something to be cheered, war is something to be feared”.

Putin’s address yesterday was intended to instil fear in Ukraine and its allies. But his latest moves are born out of weakness and failure. In a nutshell, Putin’s in trouble, but this too will prove a testing moment for the West – and it cannot afford to waver.