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Geopolitics

How To Welcome Russians Fleeing Conscription? Europe Should Be Careful

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.

Russian-Georgian border

Russian nationals entering Georgia at the Verkhny Lars checkpoint on the Russian-Georgian border.

Jacques Schuster

-Analysis-

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.

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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?

Russian-Georgian border

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.

Valery Sharifulin/TASS

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.

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Coronavirus

Chinese Students' "Absurd" Protest Against COVID Lockdowns: Public Crawling

While street demonstrations have spread in China to protest the strict Zero-COVID regulations, some Chinese university students have taken up public acts of crawling to show what extended harsh lockdowns are doing to their mental state.

​Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling on a soccer pitch

Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling

Shuyue Chen

Since last Friday, the world has watched a wave of street protests have taken place across China as frustration against extended lockdowns reached a boiling point. But even before protesters took to the streets, Chinese university students had begun a public demonstration that challenges and shames the state's zero-COVID rules in a different way: public displays of crawling, as a kind of absurdist expression of their repressed anger under three years of strict pandemic control.

Xin’s heart was beating fast as her knees reached the ground. It was her first time joining the strange scene at the university sports field, so she put on her hat and face mask to cover her identity.

Kneeling down, with her forearms supporting her body from the ground, Xin started crawling with three other girls as a group, within a larger demonstration of other small groups. As they crawled on, she felt the sense of fear and embarrassment start to disappear. It was replaced by a liberating sense of joy, which had been absent in her life as a university student in lockdown for so long.

Yes, crawling in public has become a popular activity among Chinese university students recently. There have been posters and videos of "volunteer crawling" across universities in China. At first, it was for the sake of "fun." Xin, like many who participated, thought it was a "cult-like ritual" in the beginning, but she changed her mind. "You don't care about anything when crawling, not thinking about the reason why, what the consequences are. You just enjoy it."

The reality out there for Chinese university students has been grim. For Xin, her university started daily COVID-19 testing in November, and deliveries, including food, are banned. Apart from the school gate, all exits have been padlock sealed.

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