Russians and Lithuanians Flee Russia

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On September 29, the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry issued a recommendation for Lithuanian citizens to leave Russia and not travel to the country following Vladimir Putin’s announcement of a partial military mobilization last week. The ministry also warned Lithuanian citizens that they might face persecution and detention in Russia because of the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine. “In light of the dynamically changing situation, we ask you to remain vigilant, avoid mass events, and constantly follow information published by the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Lithuanian embassy in Moscow,” it said in a statement. Shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, the ministry also urged Lithuanian citizens to avoid travelling to Russia and asked those in the country to leave it.

Russians are seen attempting to leave their country to avoid a military call-up for the Russia-Ukraine war as queues form at the Kazbegi border crossing in Stepantsminda, Georgia on September 27, 2022 [Mirian Meladze/Anadolu Agency]
Russian citizens with a document confirming their Lithuanian descent will be allowed to enter Lithuania, the Interior Ministry said on September 29. Many Lithuanians in Kaliningrad, for example, are scrambling to re-establish ties and proof of their Lithuanian citizenship.

Regarding Russians, political analyst and anti-Kremlin journalist Fyodor Krasheninnikov says that by closing their borders to Russians fleeing military draft European countries are making a “big mistake” and playing into Vladimir Putin’s hands. “If the Ukrainian authorities and those helping Ukraine want fewer Russian soldiers on the front, they should help people avoid conscription and flee Russia, not close the borders. Krasheninnikov fled Russia in 2020 and currently resides in Lithuania.

Lithuania, the other Baltic countries and Poland have recently closed their borders to Russian citizens. Even after Putin’s announcement, the government in Vilnius  insisted it will not offer shelter to Russians who are fleeing service in the army. The mobilization sparked protest rallies in a number of Russian cities, with hundreds arrested.

Krasheninnikov told LRT that “It will take time, a few weeks or even months, for a mass reaction to the mobilization and its consequences – in the form of mass deaths of these people at the front…” Efforts to avoid service in Russia’s forces in Ukraine are a serious threat to Moscow’s plans, he says, and therefore anyone campaigning against mobilization or helping people avoid it, such as lawyers and human rights organizations, are subject to government repressions.

On September 28 the Lithuanian Interior Ministry clarified current regulations regarding Russians fleeing conscription: a draft notice alone will not result in unconditional asylum.

The current law says a person may be granted asylum if he or she has a well-founded fear of being persecuted for refusing to perform military service during a conflict, which would involve crimes against humanity or war crimes. Asylum would only be granted if the person does not pose a threat to Lithuania’s security, the ministry added. When a person applies for asylum, the Migration Department examines the application and decides on a case-by-case basis.

According to the Interior Ministry, Russian citizens may not be able to apply for asylum in Lithuania, as the Kremlin is planning to introduce border controls for military service-age men.

Since March 10, Lithuania has only issued visas to Russian citizens in exceptional humanitarian cases.