Europe faces dilemma on Russians fleeing Putin’s draft


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Brussels (AFP) – The European Union faces a difficult balancing act over how to deal with Russians fleeing military mobilization as some countries seek to block entry and others offer possible sanctuary.

President Vladimir Putin’s order on Wednesday to call on hundreds of thousands to fight in Ukraine appeared to send droves of Russian men exiting to avoid going to the front lines.

Flights to countries that grant Russians visa-free entry, mostly neighboring former Soviet republics, were almost fully booked despite skyrocketing prices, and queues were reported at some borders.

So far, numbers coming into the EU seem modest, as the bloc had already restricted travel from Russia by banning direct flights and tightening visa rules after invading Ukraine.

Finland — the only member to have kept its land border open with Moscow — reported that arrivals from Russia doubled to 6,470 the day after Putin’s announcement.

But despite the small scale, the issue is causing debate in Brussels, as EU members have very different approaches to Russians escaping the fighting.

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The Baltic states and Poland – which had already gone further than others in the EU by drastically restricting entry for Russians with visas – are leading the radical line.

“Many Russians who are now fleeing Russia because of the mobilization agreed to killing Ukrainians. They didn’t protest at the time,” Latvia’s Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics wrote on Twitter.

“There are significant security risks that they allow and many countries outside the EU that they can go to.”

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Estonia’s Interior Minister Lauri Laanemets told local media: “We shouldn’t offer shelter to deserters.”

“It would fundamentally contradict the aim of all our previous sanctions, which is the collective responsibility of Russian citizens,” he said.

Finland on Friday signaled that it was following the same path by announcing that it would “significantly limit the entry of Russian citizens” following the surge in arrivals under Putin’s decree.

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“overthrow Putin”

At the other end of the spectrum, Germany signaled Thursday that it could be ready to take in Russians fleeing conscription.

“Deserters who are threatened with serious repression can usually receive international protection in Germany,” Interior Minister Nancy Faeser told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

“Anyone who courageously opposes Putin’s regime and faces great danger can apply for asylum because of political persecution,” she said.

Berlin’s softer line drew a scathing rebuke from Ukraine’s ambassador Andriy Melnyk, who insisted: “Young Russians who don’t want to go to war must topple Putin.”

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The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, said on Friday it was “monitoring” the situation and called on the bloc to issue guidelines to its 27 member states on how to manage arrivals.

EU ambassadors are due to be briefed on the issue at an emergency meeting on Ukraine on September 26.

The EU struck a landmark deal in March to open its doors to millions of Ukrainians – mostly women, children and the elderly – fleeing the Russian invasion.

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But there is far less sympathy for the Russians – especially young men – who may now be looking for a way out, although some argue that not giving them an escape route will strengthen Putin’s war machine.

European diplomats warn that finding a common approach will be difficult and the Commission is reluctant to intervene unless arrivals skyrocket.

Immigration is a notoriously sensitive issue in Brussels, and EU countries are fiercely preserving their prerogative on the issue.

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European law guarantees a right to asylum for people who come to the bloc. But this is not granted automatically, especially when there is a security risk.

“This is an unprecedented situation,” said EU spokeswoman Anitta Hipper.

When we look at the current situation in terms of security, we have to consider these geopolitical concerns and also the risks to our security.”



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