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EU countries split on what to do with Russians fleeing Putin’s mobilisation order as some refuse to open doors

The i 28/09/2022 Taz Ali
Finnish border guards check the cars at the Vaalimaa border check point between Finland and Russia (Photo: Lehtikuva via Reuters) © Provided by The i Finnish border guards check the cars at the Vaalimaa border check point between Finland and Russia (Photo: Lehtikuva via Reuters)

European Union countries are split on whether to welcome Russians fleeing the country to avoid being drafted into the army to fight in Ukraine, with some saying they should open their doors and others warning of security risks.

Russian men have been heading for the borders in droves since President Vladimir Putin’s decision last week to partially mobilise 300,000 reservists for his faltering war in Ukraine, with flights to countries granting visa-free entry nearly entirely booked up despite rocketing prices.

However, EU countries have so far failed to agree a common position, leaving it up to individual member states to decide whether to offer refuge to the draft dodgers.

Germany said it was ready to host Russian conscientious objectors, with Interior Minister Nancy Faeser saying: “Deserters threatened with serious repression can as a rule obtain international protection in Germany.”

Germany’s Justice Minister Marco Buschmann also argued that “anyone who hates Putin’s path and loves liberal democracy is welcome in Germany”.

Berlin’s stance has been backed by France, while the European Commission has reminded capitals that all asylum requests should be treated under international law.

European Council President Charles Michel has also weighed in, saying the bloc should show an “openness to those who don’t want to be instrumentalised by the Kremlin”.

However, the more hawkish Baltic and eastern European countries have already said they will not open their doors to Russians fleeing the call-up.

“Many 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,” said Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs.

“There are considerable security risks admitting them and plenty of countries outside EU to go.”

His remarks were echoed by Estonian Interior Minister Lauri Laanemets, who said it was not the EU’s role to protect deserters, while Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo said it was too soon to welcome them.

“Today we hardly hand out any visas to Russians, and I want to keep it that way,” he said.

Ukraine’s Ambassador to Germany Andriy Malnyk also rebuked Berlin’s softer stance, saying: “Young Russians who don’t want to go to war must finally overthrow Putin.”

While many Russians have travelled to Serbia, Armenia and Georgia – with Tbilisi reporting around 10,000 per day – those heading to the EU are relatively small in part because of the bloc’s sanctions on direct air flights and its tighter visa rules.

Frontex, the bloc’s border agency, said on Tuesday that 66 000 Russians had entered the EU over the previous week, a 30 per cent increase on the preceding week, with most arriving through Finnish and Estonian border crossings.

Finland, the only EU member state to keep its land border open with Russia, was expected to decide on Thursday on new measures restricting entry after almost 17,000 Russians crossed the border into the country over the weekend.

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