Whether or not to welcome Russian deserters, a dilemma for the European Union

“The question is delicate”, recognizes the European Commission. Germany is ready to welcome them, the Baltic countries are hostile to them: the fate of Russians fleeing military mobilization divides the European Union, caught between the desire to support opponents of Vladimir Putin and fears for the security of the bloc. Brussels “is following the situation very carefully” and is consulting with member states, its spokesperson, Éric Mamer, said on Friday. An emergency meeting of the ambassadors of the 27 is scheduled for Monday in Brussels.

The European executive did not give a figure on the extent of the arrival of Russians in the EU following the order of partial mobilization on the Ukrainian front announced Wednesday by Vladimir Putin. At the Finnish border, the number of entries by Russian citizens has doubled since this announcement (6,470 on Thursday compared to 3,100 at the start of the week) but remains at a limited level, according to border guards, far from certain images that are completely out of context disseminated on social networks.

If the management of national borders is a competence of the Member States, European law guarantees access to the right of asylum. But obtaining protection is not automatic, it is subject to a case-by-case examination, recalls the Commission, stressing that the situation is “unprecedented” and the “security risks” must also be taken into account.

The reluctance of the Baltic countries

A danger to which the countries bordering Russia are particularly sensitive. The Baltic states and Poland had already restricted the entry of Russian citizens on their soil more drastically than elsewhere in the EU. Finland also announced on Friday that it would “significantly” limit Russian access to its territory by refusing those who have tourist visas from a European country in the Schengen area.

“Many Russians who are fleeing Russia because of the mobilization agreed with the fact of killing Ukrainians (…) they should not be considered as conscientious objectors”, denounced the Latvian minister on Thursday of Foreign Affairs Edgars Rinkevics on Twitter. “There are considerable security risks in hosting them and there are loads of countries to go to outside the EU,” he added.

Lithuanian Defense Minister Arvydas Anusauskas considered that “conscription was not a sufficient reason” for obtaining political asylum. But “if there were acts of persecution at the same time, we would consider it”, he specified, adding that he had not seen many Russians on the border with his country, unlike “the Turkey and Georgia”.

Estonia also refuses to “offer protection to deserters”. “It would be fundamentally contradictory with the purpose of our sanctions so far, which (target) the collective responsibility of Russian citizens,” Interior Minister Lauri Laanemets said on Wednesday, according to the BNS news agency. The Czech Republic is on the same line: it will not issue them humanitarian visas.

Catherine Colonna: “Allow contacts with Russian citizens”

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, on the other hand, considered that it was necessary “to respond to the desire of a large part of the Russian population to express their opinions and sometimes to leave Russia to come to the rest of the continent”.

“We want to punish the oligarchs, we want to punish those who support the war effort (…) but it is necessary to allow contact with Russian citizens,” she said at a press conference at the end of of the UN General Assembly in New York.

In the Senate, the elected environmentalists are in favor of it: they wrote to Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne and ask the government to welcome “all those who refuse this murderous madness of Putin”, the “opponents” and “deserters”.

Similarly, Berlin stressed “that a path must remain open to Russians to come to Europe and Germany”. “Other countries such as the Baltic countries or Finland have reacted differently for understandable national reasons,” commented Steffen Hebestreit, spokesman for Chancellor Olaf Scholz, on Friday.

German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser also indicated that “whoever courageously opposes Putin and thus puts himself in great danger can apply for political asylum” in Germany, recalling that “the granting of asylum remains a case-by-case decision, which also includes a security check”.

Ukraine’s Ambassador to Germany Andriï Melnyk castigated a “bad approach”, saying Twitter that “young Russians who do not want to go to war must finally overthrow Putin”.

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