DThe consequences of the mobilization of at least 300,000 reservists in Russia were already evident on Thursday at the border with Finland. The responsible border authority reported “rainy border traffic”. More than twice as many Russians entered the country as a week earlier; there were almost 6,000. In front of the Vaalimaa border crossing in the very southeast, a queue of about 500 meters of Russian cars formed. There was also a long queue on Friday.
For Russians, Finland is the only EU neighboring country that they can currently enter by land. Although around 960,000 still have a valid visa, they have apparently been rejected for days in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.
“Many Russians who are now fleeing Russia thought it was okay for Ukrainians to be killed, they didn’t protest,” Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics wrote on Twitter. “There are significant security risks in letting them in now and lots of countries outside the EU to go to.”
The Finnish government is also considering further restricting entry for Russians. “We need to put an end to Russian travel and tourism, but how to do it is a more complicated issue,” Prime Minister Sanna Marin said. Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said that a solution was urgently needed. The issuance of visas in Finland has already been significantly restricted. Several ministries are now working on a new plan.
Protection from repression?
On the other hand, Nancy Faeser, the interior minister of the SPD, sends a completely different message. “As a rule, deserters threatened by severe repression receive international protection in Germany,” Faeser told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sunday newspaper. “Anyone who courageously opposes Putin’s regime and therefore puts himself in the greatest danger can apply for asylum in Germany because of political persecution.”
Putin’s boundless contempt for humanity does not stop at his own soldiers, whom he is sending into a murderous war against the Ukrainian civilian population. The decision-making practice of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees was already adjusted accordingly in April: Conscientious objection to military service is generally considered a reason for protection.
Germany is open, the neighboring countries are closing down – that was the initial situation when the EU countries struggled in August whether they should continue to let Russian tourists in. A compromise was then found at a meeting of foreign ministers in Prague: an agreement with Moscow on visa facilitation was suspended and entry into the country was made more difficult.
Since September 12, Russians have had to pay EUR 80 instead of EUR 35 for a visa and wait at least 15 days for it. In many cases, however, it takes much longer because the EU Commission gave the consulates up to 45 days “to be able to examine the applications more thoroughly”. She specifically recommended “performing a rigorous assessment of security risks.” Consulates may also request additional documents and should “treat applications from people without an urgent reason for entry, such as tourists, with less urgency”.
This could now fall on the feet of the EU. Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said the Union would “remain open to people we need to protect, such as journalists, dissidents, human rights defenders and people traveling for family reasons”. But do conscientious objectors also fall into this category? A spokeswoman for the Commission dodged the question on Thursday and said in general: “Access must always be guaranteed for people who ask for asylum.” This does not correspond to the reality at the borders. Next Monday, the representatives of the member states will exchange views on this for the first time in a committee for the rapid crisis response of the Council.
In the German debate, the mood is quite clear: Faeser even gets support from the opposition for her position. The deputy chairman of the Union faction, Johann Wadephul (CDU), goes even further and advocates granting humanitarian visas to soldiers “who openly oppose the Putin regime”. That would make it easier to enter Germany.
European solution sought
The Federal Ministry of the Interior has already made 438 commitments for humanitarian visas, the program is tailored to particularly vulnerable dissidents, journalists and scientists. But a new German program for conscientious objectors is currently not planned. The federal government is striving for a solution at European level, although the chances are slim.
Berlin is also aware of the problems that a generous practice entails. The number of refugees is increasing, the situation in the communities is already tense, and there are also security concerns. Faeser therefore emphasizes that the granting of asylum is always a case-by-case decision and that a security check is always carried out in this context. The aim is to rule out the possibility of accepting people who enter the country on behalf of the Russian leadership.