Thursday

29th Sep 2022

EU asylum in doubt for Russians fleeing army draft

  • Russia has not ruled out closing its borders stop people fleeing (Photo: Kelly)
Listen to article

Russians fleeing a military draft won't get into Estonia or Latvia, posing questions what Finland, Lithuania, and Poland will do if there is a large exodus.

Google searches on "how to leave Russia" spiked as soon as Russian president Vladimir Putin announced mobilisation of 300,000 reservists on Wednesday (21 September) morning.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Flights from Moscow to Istanbul and Yerevan sold out hours after he spoke, according to Russian flight-booking website Aviasales.

Putin's speech also prompted small anti-war protests in some 15 Russian towns, leading to 109 arrests, according to Russian rights group OVD-Info.

And for its part, the Kremlin declined to rule out closing its borders in the future to stop people leaving. "I can't answer that question," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday when asked if it might happen.

But any Russians trying to seek asylum in Estonia or Latvia will be turned back anyway.

"A refusal to fulfil one's civic duty in Russia or a desire to do so does not constitute sufficient grounds for being granted asylum in another country", Estonian foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu told Reuters.

"Due to security reasons, Latvia will not issue humanitarian or other types of visas to those Russian citizens who avoid mobilisation," Latvian foreign minister Edgars Rinkēvičs also said.

The Lithuanian foreign ministry said asylum applications would "be assessed in the usual way, taking into account all circumstances and on an individual basis".

But it added that Lithuania "does not have the purpose and capacity to issue visas on humanitarian grounds to all Russian citizens who apply for them".

Finland, which has the longest border with Russia of any EU country, is not entirely closing its doors to Russians, Finnish foreign minister Pekka Haavisto told press at the UN General Assembly in New York.

But Finnish defence minister Antti Kaikkonen said Putin's mobilisation gave grounds for a tougher EU-wide policy on Russian visas. "There are indeed grounds for a stricter [EU] visa policy," he said.

And a Finnish diplomat indicated the Finnish position might harden in the coming days.

"There's a vibrant political discussion in Finland going on over the issue [of Russian reservists' access to asylum]," the diplomat said.

Polish authorities did not take a line on Russian asylum-seekers, but one Polish diplomat, speaking in a personal capacity, gave an indication of the feeling in Warsaw.

"Let those fleeing Russia go to France, or Catalonia, or Italy — let them get political asylum there on a mass scale. The Baltic states and Poland don't have to do it," the Polish diplomat told EUobserver.

The EU Commission did not reply when asked if it was legal to block Russian asylum rights in reaction to the army draft.

And for his part, Vladimir Ashurkov, a London-based associate of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, said there is unlikely to be a mass exodus to Europe.

"Of course, there will be people who leave Russia not to serve in the army, but I don't expect that many will go to EU," he told EUobserver.

But he added: "I think people who refuse to serve in Russian army and are under threat of persecution for this should be getting an asylum".

More EU sanctions?

Meanwhile, Putin's speech included nuclear threats and nodded to annexation of parts of eastern Ukraine.

His escalation is to be discussed by EU ambassadors in Brussels on Thursday and might prompt an emergency meeting of EU foreign ministers in the coming days, an EU diplomat said.

If the annexations go ahead, there will likely be a new round of EU sanctions, they added. "More [Russian] names on the sanctions lists — that's for sure," the EU diplomat said.

But the EU has already blacklisted most of Putin's top supporters. It has also sanctioned most Russian banks and economic sectors feeding the Kremlin's war effort.

"Can the EU still do something today to really hurt Putin?", the Polish diplomat said.

Putin's speech prompted Lithuania to put its army on alert, but Finland's defence chief, Kaikkonen, said Finland saw nothing menacing in terms of Russian troop presence in the region.

"Most of the Russian troops that are normally in Finland's vicinity are in fact in or near Ukraine. But, of course, [our] readiness is also being adjusted as necessary," he said.

The Finnish-Russian border is also to become a Nato border once Finland joins the alliance, with just Hungary, Slovakia, and Turkey still to ratify accession.

The Baltic countries and Poland already closed their borders to Russian tourists on Monday for moral and security reasons.

The EU earlier agreed to limit the number of tourist visas available and to more than double their price.

Finnish border guards will allow fleeing Russians to enter

Finland says there has not yet been a dramatic increase in Russian nationals trying to enter Finland from Russia, noting just over 4,800 Russian nationals crossed the land border on the day of Vladimir Putin's announcement of the draft.

Agenda

Meloni mood and energy in focus This WEEK

Italians cast their ballot yesterday on Sunday and chose a rightwing majority parliament, which is expected to have a turbulent relationship with Brussels.

Column

EU should admonish less, and listen more, to the Global South

Whether on Russia, or gas, or climate change, or food security, the EU's constant finger-wagging and moralising is becoming unbearably repetitive and self-defeating. Most countries in the Global South view it as eurocentric and neo-colonial.

News in Brief

  1. EU takes Malta to court over golden passports
  2. EU to ban Russian products worth €7bn a year more
  3. Denmark: CIA did not warn of Nord Stream attack
  4. Drone sightings in the North Sea 'occurred over months'
  5. Gazprom threatens to cut gas deliveries to Europe via Ukraine
  6. New compromise over EU energy emergency measures
  7. 15 states push for EU-wide gas price cap
  8. EU: Nord Stream explosions 'result of a deliberate act'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. The European Association for Storage of EnergyRegister for the Energy Storage Global Conference, held in Brussels on 11-13 Oct.
  2. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos
  3. European Committee of the RegionsThe 20th edition of EURegionsWeek is ready to take off. Save your spot in Brussels.
  4. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries

Latest News

  1. Everything you need to know about the EU gas price cap plan
  2. Why northeast Italy traded in League for Brothers of Italy
  3. How US tech giants play EU states off against each other
  4. Deregulation of new GMO crops: science or business?
  5. The European shipping giants plying Putin's fossil-fuels trade
  6. Russian ideologue and caviar on latest EU blacklist
  7. Netherlands tops EU social safety net for the poor
  8. New EU rules to make companies liable for their AI failures

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us