Europe must decide what to do with Russians fleeing abroad

Europe must decide what to do with Russians fleeing abroad

Since Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the mobilization of around 300,000 reservists for the fight in Ukraine, tens of thousands of Russians have tried to leave the country to avoid being called up. Many have gone to the former Soviet republics bordering Russia, such as Georgia or Kazakhstan, while many others have attempted to reach the European Union via Finland, a country that shares a long land border with Russia.

However, European countries are divided on how to behave when accepting Russian citizens. Tips arrived on Friday from the European Commission proposing a restrictive approach that invites us to distinguish who has concrete reasons to leave Russia and who doesn’t: a difficult and tedious task if flows are to increase significantly. Obviously, however, even lengthening and cumbersome entry procedures could be considered a satisfactory outcome for the European institutions, at least for the moment.

Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said on Friday that member states should “carry out close scrutiny and strict controls at the Union’s external borders when assessing visa applications from Russian citizens”. According to Johansson, in practice, states should check on a case-by-case basis whether Russian citizens can enter the country: “A valid visa is not enough to gain access to the Schengen area or the European Union”.

As Politico explained, Johansson’s is not an official guideline, but it appears to endorse the decisions of countries that have decided in recent days to introduce restrictions on Russians wishing to enter the Union for tourism. According to Johansson, visas from Russian journalists and dissidents should be given priority, and those for those officially traveling as tourists should be restricted.

Germany and France have so far shown themselves to be more in favor of a welcoming policy: Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said, “Anyone who courageously opposes Putin’s regime and is therefore in great danger can apply for asylum because of political persecution”.

In France, some members of the Senate have argued that the European Union has a duty to help those fleeing the Russian regime and that refusing to do so risks amplifying Putin’s propaganda rhetoric about Western hostility towards Russia support. The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, was also open to Russians: Speaking at the UN General Assembly in New York, Michel told Politico that the European Union must be “open to those” who do not want to be exploited by the Russian government » .

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But other European countries have taken much more cohesive and tougher positions, notably the Baltic countries, namely Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis he said that “the Russians have to stay where they are and fight: against Putin”. His Latvian counterpart Edgars Rinkevics said the Russians’ admission posed “significant risks” to the security of the entire European Union. Rinkevics also criticized the Russians for only now deciding to take a stand against the war, given the danger run to personal harm after tolerating their government’s crimes in Ukraine over the past few months. Rinkevics added that “it’s full of countries outside the European Union” that Russians can go to. Estonian Interior Minister Lauri Laanemets also took a similar position.

It is not yet clear whether the European Union will decide to address this issue by defining a common position for member countries. Meanwhile, Putin appears to be trying to recruit new soldiers in the Russian-held Ukrainian territories as well, forcing the same Ukrainians living in those areas — notably in Kherson, but also in Crimea — to join the Russian army in carrying out the invasion Of Ukraine.

According to a spokesman for the European Union Asylum Agency a Politico, the increase in applications for international protection from Russian citizens is currently “small but significant”: in January and July it was 7,300. “The agency is monitoring the effects of the partial mobilization of reservists ordered by Putin,” the spokesman said.