Europe should welcome the exodus of conscientious objectors from Russia. But the conditions vary across the continent, and there needs to be some security precautions.
BERLIN — Russia's President Vladimir Putin is currently suffering his greatest defeat in the battle for terrain, but also public opinion.
The Kremlin may spread as much propaganda as it likes, but the pictures of kilometer-long lines of cars at the borders and thousands of young men fleeing abroad to avoid the draft with hastily packed bags show clearly what the Russian population thinks of Moscow's war of aggression.
In this sense, one can only hope that the stream will continue to flow for a long time.
But how should European governments deal with the mass of fleeing conscientious objectors?
It's a question that won't necessarily go away soon, especially with some likely to wind up staying for a long period if they are threatened with imprisonment, or worse, at home.
Are Russian conscientious objectors a threat?
Countries like Finland, but also the Baltic States with small populations, rightly point to the security problem that those Russians can present. They recall that many of these newcomers welcomed the war, except that now they don't want to join.
Countries like Germany and France, on the other hand, are more relaxed: they have larger populations, a tradition as countries that provide protection to refugees, and a distance from Russia that is now perceived as a blessing. The German government has already indicated that it will grant residency to conscientious objectors.
So who is right: the Western and Central Europeans — or the Eastern Europeans?
An aerial view of cars waiting in line on the road for the Verkhny Lars checkpoint on the Russian-Georgian border on Sept. 28, 2022.
From Russia with a cautious welcome
The answer is disappointing because both sides are right.
It suits the EU to give protection to Russians seeking help. No one leaves their country lightly, giving up work and their previous life to enter a situation in which the new country does not become home, but one becomes a foreigner in their homeland. For the overwhelming most part, these people are neither collaborators nor spies.
It suits the EU to give protection to Russians seeking help.
Nevertheless, a country like Finland, with a population of about 5.5 million, cannot be expected to accept a large number of Russian refugees.
Helsinki should be allowed, within the framework of a EU conference of interior ministers, to pass on the majority of refugees to other EU members. But every Russian admitted should be subjected to strict security checks by police authorities and the Office for the Protection of the Constitution.
Putin can be trusted to send sleepers across the borders, who, depending on Russia's needs, can also wreak havoc. In Germany, the memory remains clear of the 2019 murder of a Chechen in Berlin's Tiergarten park by Russian operatives.