EU debates whether to welcome those fleeing Russia: NPR

The European Union is divided over whether to give refuge to fleeing Russians after President Vladimir Putin announced last week that men with military experience would be called up to fight in Ukraine.


The European Union is divided on whether to welcome Russians fleeing their country. Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that he would call up men with military experience to fight in Ukraine. NPR’s Rob Schmitz joins us now from Berlin to talk about the divisions in Europe over this. Hi Rob.


SUMMERS: Rob, this is a big point of contention, so help us understand. Which countries are open to Russians and which are not?

SCHMITZ: Yes, the dividing lines on this issue are, for the most part, geographical and historical. Countries bordering Russia or its ally Belarus and/or countries that were once part of the Soviet Union have restricted the entry of Russians into their country. And that includes the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Poland and, in the most recent case, Finland, which essentially closed its border to Russians last Friday. Meanwhile, major EU economies, such as Germany and France, are more willing to grant political asylum or some form of humanitarian status to Russians who fled for the same reasons they gave refuge. Syrians and Iraqis several years ago for humanitarian reasons.

SUMMERS: Okay, so for countries that don’t want to open their borders to the Russians, what sort of reasons do they give?

SCHMITZ: Yes, one reason given in particular by the Baltic states, which have a lot of experience in dealing with Russia, is that opening borders like this could allow more pro-Putin operatives to enter the EU. A more common reason – and one we’ve heard a lot about this summer, however – is that EU states shouldn’t grant visas to Russian citizens so they can enjoy their holidays in various parts of Europe. while their government is waging a war in another part of Europe.

I spoke with Judy Dempsey, senior fellow at Carnegie Europe, about why former Soviet states are particularly opposed to allowing more Russians into Europe. And she says it has a lot to do with their own struggles with Russian leadership in the past.

JUDY DEMPSEY: The Czechoslovaks overthrew the communist regime. Poles since the late 70s and 80s have continued to protest. They didn’t flee to the West, but they built an opposition, and they were actually strong enough to drive out the Communist Party. So essentially the change came from within. Will the Russians take this into account?

SCHMITZ: And Juana, it’s worth noting here that fighting Soviet leadership in the 1980s, as she just said, is a bit different from trying to overthrow the government of Vladimir Putin and his technological surveillance state today. today. But there is certainly a feeling among Eastern Europeans that Russian citizens should do more to fight their own government from within.

SUMMERS: So the European Union had meetings yesterday to try to iron out some of these internal divisions on this issue. Rob, did they go somewhere?

SCHMITZ: No. They’re kind of at an impasse on this. EU leaders, including European Council President Charles Michel, appear willing to grant asylum to Russians fleeing their country. But there is fierce opposition from the eastern flank of the EU, and there seems to be no room for compromise. And whenever the EU is unable to come to a unified decision on something like this, it is usually up to the Member State level to take their own action, and that is what we have already seen. Most member states bordering Russia are closing their borders, and a handful of major western EU states are preparing to open them. And just to be clear, there are no direct flights from Russia to the EU thanks to the EU sanction, so for a Russian to get to those big EU states, he need flights to at least one third country, which for most of them is not an easy task.

SUMMERS: Joining us from Berlin is Rob Schmitz from NPR. Thanks.

SCHMITZ: Thank you.

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