Debate Over Allowing In Russians Fleeing Mobilization Raises Important Concerns
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, Moscow has so far failed to break Kyiv’s resistance, albeit not without causing a tremendous deal of death, suffering, and destruction. In fact, the Ukrainian forces pushed back the Russians in September in a counter-offensive, prompting Vladimir Putin to declare a partial mobilization to beef up the Kremlin’s military after it suffered significant losses. Anti-war protests followed as a result, and many young men began fleeing the country to avoid conscription.
This phenomenon quickly generated a dispute within the European Union over whether the military-age males leaving Russia should be allowed in and granted asylum. This debate is worth analyzing because it raises important questions and concerns in the context of refugee/asylum policies for both Russian deserters as well as STEM graduates, which the Biden administration has sought to import, ostensibly to undermine the Putin regime. That’s because such open-doors policies may actually have the opposite effect by making it easier for Russian spies and operatives to infiltrate the United States.
France and Germany have called for Europe to open the gates. According to PBS News Hour, “Germany has held out the possibility of granting asylum to deserters and those refusing the draft. In France, senators are arguing that Europe has a duty to help and warned that not granting refuge to fleeing Russians could play into Putin’s hands, feeding his narrative of Western hostility to Russia.” A group of 40 French senators stated that “[c]losing our frontiers would fit neither with our values nor our interests.” These countries have downplayed or completely ignore the risks that come along with freely opening their borders to Russian migrants.
The Central European and Baltic nations – which have long histories of being at the receiving end of Russian aggression – have a much more sober take. They raised the specter of “considerable security risks,” due to the possible infiltration of spies, saboteurs, and agents of influence, and Lithuania’s foreign minister tweeted that “Russians should stay and fight. Against Putin.”
Poland’s deputy foreign minister, Pawel Jablonski, explained that “[i]f we want to generate some change in Russia (…) we cannot allow for those who have other views to leave [Russia] and not apply pressure [on the Putin regime]. Social protests erupt all over the world, so why should Russians suddenly be freed from that civic duty?”
The nation’s deputy defense minister, Marcin Ociepa, added that “this type of operation may be a perfect opportunity for Russian secret services to send foreign agents here, under the pretext of fleeing deserters and refugees.” Moscow has a long history of such infiltration.
Similar concerns apply to ideas previously proposed by President Biden, who, earlier this year, had asked Congress to facilitate the granting of work visas to highly educated Russian citizens, specifically those with Master’s or PhD degrees in STEM. The ostensible goal here was to “attract and retain Russian STEM talent and undercut Russia’s innovative potential, benefiting US national security.” In addition to being yet another cheap foreign labor subsidy for Big Tech and punch in the gut to struggling U.S. STEM graduates, such proposals are just as naïve as offering asylum to any Russian escaping conscription – if not more so. The fact that someone is “highly educated” or has a degree in STEM does not automatically guarantee that such a person will be pro-American and pro-Western. Nor do degrees – or the vetting process promised by the administration – necessarily preclude potential security threats. The case of Chinese espionage should serve as a warning in this regard.
While it is understandable to sympathize with Russians who oppose the Kremlin’s war of aggression, or who simply don’t want to perish in a war that is going increasingly awry for the invaders, reason should prevail over emotions. Those Russians should be encouraged to fight for change within, as difficult as that may be. Incentivizing them to leave Russia may actually be doing their cause a disservice.