EU divided on how to deal with fleeing Russians

EU divided on how to deal with fleeing Russians
Credit: Dmitry G / Wikimedia

EU countries are divided on how to receive Russian men fleeing military service in Ukraine after President Vladimir Putin's 'partial mobilisation' announcement last week.

On Monday, EU ambassadors held a meeting to discuss how to deal with a potential Russian influx but were unable to agree on how to move forward. One idea tabled was to grant fleeing Russians temporary humanitarian status, rather than asylum.

However, several Member States are concerned. The Baltic states and Poland have already stated they will not accept Russians fleeing conscription as refugees.

Lithuanian Foreign Affairs Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis tweeted: "Lithuania will not be granting asylum to those who are simply running from responsibility. Russians should stay and fight. Against Putin."

Landsbergis added there are actions Russian men can take instead of fleeing to Europe, such as protest, disobey, become a prisoner of war or mutiny.

Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevičs tweeted: "Many of Russians who now flee Russia because of mobilisation were fine with killing Ukrainians, they did not protest then, it is not right to consider them as conscious objectors. There are considerable security risks admitting them and plenty of countries outside EU to go."

On a similar note, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo told TV show De Zevende Dag on Sunday the EU shouldn't open its borders to those escaping conscription at this point.

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"I think it cannot be the intention in Europe now to say ‘yes’ to all Russians who are conscientious objectors, or who do not agree with the regime in Russia," de Croo said.

"Today we hardly hand out any visas to Russians, and I want to keep it that way…. It would be a difficult signal in relation to the many Ukrainian refugees that we have taken in our country to suddenly start taking in Russians as well."

Opposing views

European Council President Charles Michel took a different stand, telling Politico on Friday that the bloc should show an "openness to those who don’t want to be instrumentalised by the Kremlin."

The German government has also signalled it is open to receiving Russians fleeing conscription. German Justice Minister Marco Buschmann tweeted that "apparently, many Russians are leaving their homeland — anyone who hates Putin's path and loves liberal democracy is welcome in Germany."

Almost 17,000 Russians crossed the border to Finland over the weekend, according to Finnish authorities. The Finnish interior minister is reportedly examining the possibility of building a fence along its eastern border.

Over 2,000 people have been detained in Russia protesting the draft, according to OVD-Info, a Russian human rights group.

As previously reported, following the Council’s suspension of EU’s visa facilitation agreement with Russia, the European Commission issued guidelines  to support the Member States in handling short-stay visa applications lodged by Russian citizens. The guidelines are restrictive and require strict assessments of security risks and enhanced scrutiny of Russians applying for entry to EU.

The category of Russians who want to avoid military service and to take refuge in the EU instead of risking becoming involved in war crimes in Ukraine or years-long imprisonment in Russia for their refusal to serve in the Russian army was not foreseen in the guidelines.

The Commission’s spokesperson declined to respond to a question from The Brussels Times whether it planned to update the guidelines and include an explicit reference to Russian war objectors.

The Commission referred to the existing legal framework which requires individual assessment of each case. However, it is assessing the situation and will follow up on the conclusions of EU’s Integrated Political Crisis Mechanism meeting on Monday and the Migration Preparedness and Blueprint Network meeting on Tuesday to ensure a common EU approach.

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