After the partial mobilisation order, increasing numbers of Russians have left the country including towards the EU. The European Commission has published guidelines calling on member states to ensure reinforced security scrutiny when issuing visas to Russian citizens and heightened border controls.

Following Russian President, Vladimir Putin’s order on 21 September of a partial mobilisation of 300,000 reservists to reinforce his troops in Ukraine, increasing numbers of potential soldiers have fled the country. Reportedly, 180,000 people have entered Kazakhstan, Georgia and Türkiye. According to the European Border Coast Guard Agency (FRONTEX) more than 1,3 million Russian citizens have entered the EU through its land borders since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February and more than 1,2 million had returned to Russia via its land borders with the EU in the same period. However, during the week of the announcement of the partial mobilisation between 19 and 25 September 66,000 Russian citizens entered the EU – a 30% increase compared to the preceding week. The increase slowed over the following week to 53,000 and FRONTEX expects arrivals to decrease due to the stricter EU visa policy and Russia’s measures to keep military-age men from leaving. The Agency states that “Most of the Russian citizens are entering the EU through Finnish and Estonian border crossing points”.

The Council of the European Union adopted a Decision suspending the application of all provisions of the Visa Facilitation Agreement with the Russian Federation on 9 September and EU member states have applied different approaches to arrivals – with some notably Germany welcoming “Deserters threatened with serious repression” and others warning of security risks. Some member states, including the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania as well as Poland and Finland had implemented visa restrictions for Russian citizens traveling for “tourism or leisure” prior to the mobilisation. Further, France as well as the Baltic states have emphasized they are not ready to offer asylum to Russian citizens merely based on them fleeing the draft and Lithuanian Defense Minister Arvydas Anusauskas stated on 22 September “being drafted into the army is not enough” continuing “Political asylum is granted to those who are persecuted for their beliefs”. Lithuanian Interior Minister, Agne Bilotaite has warned over risks of Russian intelligence or military bodies arriving in the country under the guise of fleeing mobilization to create a network of “sleeper agents”. According to a statement from the minister on 29 September: “In ten days, 220 people have been refused entry in Lithuania, 93 in Latvia and 262 in Estonia”. She further alleged: “Tourists fleeing mobilization are not seeking asylum in Lithuania either; six cases of tourists claiming to be evading mobilization have been recorded and all of them have been denied entry”. According to the Baltic News Network (BNN): “Like Poland, Estonia and Latvia, Lithuania counts the second week of entry block for most Russian citizens with EU visas. However, over the first week of the ban, in effect since September 19, the Lithuanian border guards allowed 9 896 Russians to cross the border and only a mere 153 Russians were rejected entry, the State Border Guard Service (VSAT) has announced”.

On 30 September, the European Commission publishedGuidelines on general visa issuance in relation to Russian applicants and controls of Russian citizens at the external borders’. In the context of “The recent escalation of war by Russia, including through military mobilisation and sham ‘referenda’” – that ultimately led to the annexation of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia – the guidelines “call for reinforced security scrutiny when issuing visas to Russians and heightened border controls, while fully respecting EU asylum law”.  Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson said:“The EU will protect itself and our citizens. We are making sure to have a coherent and united approach at EU external borders vis-à-vis Russian citizens and also when it comes to applying strict rules on issuing short-stay visas for Russian citizens. At the same time, Europe will not close its door to those who are in genuine need of protection”. The guidelines include measures such as reinforced security scrutiny on visa issuance to Russians, revocation and annulment of valid visas (at the border), coordinated and thorough controls of Russian citizens at EU’s external borders and more careful assessment of travel documents by passenger carriers. The right to apply for asylum at European borders as stipulated by international law remain an option for Russian citizens under the guidelines regardless of whether they hold a visa. According to commissioner Johansson, there have been “around like 20 or 30 applications per day” by Russian citizens over the past week. An EUAA spokesperson told media that EU countries have received “a small but significant increase in applications by Russian nationals” for international protection. According to the agency between January and July 2022, EU member states saw over 7,300 applications. Meanwhile, EUAA “is monitoring the impact of the partial mobilization of reservists”.

On 30 September, EUAA published a Medical Country of Origin Information (MedCOI) report on the Russian Federation. The report “aims to provide EU+ asylum caseworkers with information on the overall epidemiological situation in Russia, as well as the challenges in accessing healthcare; as they consider international protection requests from Russian nationals”. While, the overall assessment is that the Russian public healthcare system is relatively well functioning the report identifies some “important problems” including “a lack of funding, patient orientation and user-friendliness, as well as understaffing in many places, but especially in rural areas. Indeed, the 10 wealthiest regions have almost double the health funding compared to the poorest regions. Further, the report notes that: “Out of pocket expenditures have increased significantly over the past 20 years, and are dominated by the cost of medication”.

For further information:

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.