Russia’s neighbors consider giving asylum to draft dodgers who can prove they were conscripted

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Latvia said it might give asylum to Russians who can prove they were called up to fight in Ukraine.

Russia’s European neighbors have largely rejected the idea that they would let in Russians fleeing out of fear that they will be sent to Ukraine. They cite national security risks that an influx of Russian citizens could create and say Russians should have opposed the war before there was the possibility that they themselves would have to fight.

But Artis Pabriks, Latvia’s defense minister, told Insider his country may make exceptions for Russians who can prove they were called up.

Latvia’s defense minister Artis Pabriks. Philip Davali/Reuters

“If there is a Russian who has mobilization paper in hand and comes to our border guard to show that look, ‘I’m escaping, and I am trying to avoid it because I do not agree with this war,’ then, of course, we can put him into the refugee camp.”

His office also said in a statement to Insider on Thursday: “Latvia will consider those who have received mobilization papers and are fleeing from Russia.”

It said that Russians without this proof will not be considered: “A wish to enter Latvia without a mobilization document will not be considered a reason to apply for asylum.”

Many Russians have fled the country since Putin announced a partial mobilization, including by plane, private jets, and across Russia’s land borders.

Pabriks said Latvia was being “very restrictive” in how it’s treating fleeing Russians: “We are not going to open a border simply to every male person from 18 to 60 or 65, simply because he might fall under the mobilization.”

Latvia’s neighbors, who also share a land border with Russia, have also closed off that route to fleeing Russians. EU countries are considering allowing Russians to seek asylum.

Related: Ukrainian military is about to encircle a Russian force in the east

A map showing the border between Latvia and Russia. (Google Maps/Insider)

Russians still can leave the country via other land borders, including Georgia and Kazakhstan.

Pabriks echoed the reasoning given by Russia’s other neighbors for not taking in fleeing Russians. 

He said doing so would be a risk to European safety “because we don’t know who these people are.”

The apparent support of the war in Russia before Putin’s mobilization is another factor: “We know that about 70% of Russians just a week ago were still behind Putin’s war.”

Indeed, surveys in Russia earlier in the invasion found that more than 70% of Russians supported it. But, the BBC noted people may have been unwilling to say they do not support the war out of fear of retribution.

Latvia has blocked Russian visitors in protest at Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Pabriks condemned would-be Russian tourists: “What kind of tourists can you imagine, on the one hand, your country, your leadership, your society is waging war against your neighbor and are still coming to us and willing to rest at our beaches? No. This is not how it should be.”

Latvia’s foreign ministry took a more cautious tone on Russians fleeing mobilization.

Related: In response to Russian aggression, Latvia is bringing back the draft

A billboard promoting contract army service with a the slogan reading “Serving Russia is a real job” in St Petersburg.
Olga Maltseva/Getty Images via Insider

It told Insider on Thursday that “attempts to escape conscription in Russia do not constitute enough grounds for being granted asylum in Latvia. People have the right to seek asylum, while Latvia has no obligation to grant asylum. In our opinion, fleeing mobilization per se is not sufficient grounds.”

But it added that “Latvia will accept those who are politically persecuted by the regime.”

It is possible that some Russians who have been mobilized could argue that they are being persecuted.

Pabriks said that Putin had been “discriminating against minorities” by disproportionately calling them up. 

The Moscow Times reported that the recent mobilization had seen a “disproportionate” amount of men being drafted from ethnic minorities. 

Activist groups have warned that men from minority backgrounds appear to be “dying at disproportionately high rates” in the war.

Russia also threatens harsh prison sentences for those who refuse to fight.

This article by Sinéad Baker was originally published by Business Insider.

Feature Image: People cross the border from Russia into Kazakhstan on September 27, 2022. The country is one of the routes that Russians are using to flee after partial mobilization was announced. (AP Photo via Insider)

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