EU weighs its options with Russians fleeing military service

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European Union countries began debating on Monday what to do about Russians trying to enter the bloc to avoid President Vladimir Putin’s call-up over the Ukraine war.

The number of men of enlistment age heading abroad since Putin called up 300,000 reservists on Wednesday has posed a problem for EU members, particularly eastern states, which had been limiting Russian access. in response to the war.

It has also raised fears of increased trafficking and potential security risks at the borders.

EU leaders delivered mixed messages ahead of a meeting of their ambassadors in Brussels on Monday, with another scheduled for Tuesday.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo told the De Zevende Dag television program on Sunday that the bloc should not open its doors wide to those fleeing conscription now.

“I think that it is not possible to pretend now in Europe to say ‘yes’ to all Russians who are conscientious objectors, or who do not agree with the regime in Russia,” De Croo said.

“Today we hardly grant visas to Russians, and I want it to remain that way (…) It would be a contradictory signal, in relation to the many Ukrainian refugees that we have welcomed in our country, to suddenly start welcoming Russians too” .

European Council President Charles Michel took a different stance, telling Politico on Friday that the bloc should “welcome those who don’t want to be instrumentalized by the Kremlin.”

An EU representative told Reuters that opening the borders could cause major migration pressures on the EU’s eastern flank, as well as security risks if Russian agents enter to create provocations or engage in a hybrid war.

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On the other hand, not taking any action would discourage Russians who oppose Putin, added the representative, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Russia invaded Ukraine – a former Soviet republic that now wants to join the EU – on February 24 by air, land and sea. The war has already killed tens of thousands of people, devastated Ukraine’s economy, cities and infrastructure, and brought ties between Moscow and the West to lows not seen since the Cold War.

Nearly 17,000 Russians crossed the border into Finland over the weekend, according to Finnish authorities, while Russian state media said the estimated wait time to enter Georgia was as high as 48 hours at one point on Sunday. , with more than 3,000 vehicles queuing.

More than 2,000 people have been arrested across Russia over the protests against the draft, according to the independent watchdog group OVD-Info. With criticism of the conflict prohibited, the demonstrations were one of the first signs of discontent since the war began.

On Monday, Russian lawmaker Sergei Tsekov told the RIA news agency that Russia itself should ban people of enlistment age from leaving.

Asked about that possibility, Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov told reporters: “At the moment, no decision has been made on this.”

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