Tu, 29.11.2022

Those escaping from the Russian mobilization cannot expect a future in Estonia

Meinhard Pulk
, ajakirjanik
Those escaping from the Russian mobilization cannot expect a future in Estonia
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A few days ago, the joint exercise Müür of the Police and Border Guard Board and the Defense League ended. It cannot be ruled out that due to Russia's decision to mobilize, the acquired skills will have to be put into practice.
A few days ago, the joint exercise Müür of the Police and Border Guard Board and the Defense League ended. It cannot be ruled out that due to Russia's decision to mobilize, the acquired skills will have to be put into practice. Photo: Ilja Smirnov
  • The chances of people leaving Russia to receive asylum in Estonia are modest.
  • Mobilization papers for Russian male citizens residing in Estonia need not reach them.
  • Russia citizens leaving top fight for Russia would have their Estonian residence permits revoked.

The partial mobilization announced by Russian President Vladimir Putting on Wednesday morning may lead to pressure on the Estonian border by Russian men who wish to evade it.

Yesterday was a calm day for the Police and Border Guard Board. According to Mare Live, the head of Narva border post, the call for mobilization did not lead to greater traffic in the border town. A small staff was put on standby in Tallinn to monitor the situation.

In the threat assessments of the security agency, potential conflicts between the Russian border guard and deserters, as well as migration and the growing number of asylum applications, are highlighted as the biggest threats. At the same time, both Minister of the Interior Lauri Läänemets and Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu expressed their belief that Estonia should not make an exception for people seeking asylum due to mobilization and change the entry ban for Russian citizens.

Fear of pressure on the border

Although Russia has significantly limited the opportunities for men aged 18-65 to leave the country, and the eastern neighbor is likely to make efforts to make the restrictions work in practice, due to rampant corruption at the border, the “flow” towards Estonia may still be quite significant.

The problem is even more acute in Finland, as the only EU member state with common border with Russia which has not yet imposed a complete entry ban on Russian citizens. Accordingly, the fear of pressure on the border has increased.

The Finnish Border Guard assured Postimees that the traffic on their eastern border was normal at least on Wednesday, while claims spread on social media that the queue at the Finnish border with Russia was 35 kilometers long and growing by the hour.

Helsingin Sanomat also wrote, based on the assessment of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, that more and more Russian men of military service age want to leave Russia for Finland. “Such visa applications are rejected,” confirmed Jussi Tanner, head of the Department of Consular Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

There are 20,452 Russian male citizens aged 18–60 living in Estonia with a valid residence permit, i.e. who may receive a mobilization call from Russia. The Ministry of the Interior does not yet have information on whether any of them have already received mobilization notices.

At yesterday's press conference, Major General Veiko-Vello Palm, the Deputy Commander of the Defense Forces, did not consider it likely that mobilization notices would arrive in Estonia at all. Palm also did not predict a large wave of refugees.

Veiko Kommusaar, Deputy Secretary General for Internal Security of the Ministry of the Interior, made it clear that if the Russian citizens here really want to go to war in Ukraine, Estonia would not prevent it. “It is very unlikely that all [male Russian citizens living in Estonia] are the target group of Putin's war machine. However, if they receive a notice and decide to accept it, they will definitely lose their Estonian residence permit,” said Kommusaar.

Russian viewpoint: male Russian citizens in Estonia do not favor the mobilization but support Russian aggression in Ukraine

“We are different and will not take part in it”– this is exactly what many Russian men living in Jõhvi, Kohtla-Järve, Sillamäe and Narva, whose peers received a mobilization notice, said about Russia's mobilization.

None of the men with whom Rus.Postimees spoke on Wednesday and who preferred not to see their name and photograph in the paper support the decision of the President of the Russian Federation to declare mobilization, while most of them support Russia's aggression in Ukraine. The majority of these men believe that a large-scale war – that is exactly what is written in the mobilization notice – will drastically change the attitude of the Russian society.

September 21 passed under the slogan “call home” to Russian citizens living in Estonia. Hundreds of families tried to contact male relatives who might be affected by the mobilization. However, none of the Russian men who communicated with Rus.Postimees were willing to go to Russia if they were to receive a mobilization notice.

Most of them perceived the mobilization notice as an attack on their independent position outside of Russia, and many expressed their fear through the Russian embassy of being forced into war with Ukraine.

The women, whose husbands, brothers and fathers are Russian citizens living in Estonia, reacted quite differently. “If in the beginning it was mostly people's own choice [whether to go to war], now the war has reached every home,” the women sighed. “I cannot understand how it is possible to take men and sons to war in the 21st century? To which war and for what?” asked Natalya, who lives in Sillamäe. Denis Antonov, Rus.Postimees

The army is prepared

Since Russia is also conducting mobilization in the Kaliningrad region, Arvydas Anušauskas, the Minister of Defense of Lithuania, which borders the Russian exclave, announced that the country will raise the level of readiness of the rapid reaction forces.

Major General Palm also confirmed that the Estonian Defense Forces is working on a package of measures to respond to Russia's move. "The military have been discussing the possibility of the Russian mobilization and how to respond to it for months. We have various [possible] steps in the military sense, primarily it is a show of force, organizing additional exercises, transferring some units from one region to another – all of them have been proposed,” Palm said.

The military have been discussing the possibility of Russian mobilization and how to respond to it for months.

The Defense Forces did not agree to disclose any details of the measures on Wednesday evening.

Minister of Defense Hanno Pevkur also remained tight-lipped. “In addition to monitoring and collecting intelligence information, we must also be ready for some subsequent steps, but we will try to discuss this today in the Ministry of Defense and tomorrow in the government,” he said to Postimees in the morning.

According to Meelis Oidsalu, the former deputy secretary general of the Ministry of Defense, Estonia is apparently increasing the alertness and attentiveness of its permanent units. "This is normal in such cases,” he said.

Erkki Koort: descendants of Estonians may also escape from Russia

One of the rogue states of the world has proclaimed mobilization to save their "Blitzkrieg" in Ukraine. We have a border with this neighboring country and we should not forget that the military units behind our border have also performed war crimes in Ukraine.

True, at the moment the bases across our border are relatively empty and the fighting capability of some units has fallen to zero. The best-known of them is probably the 76th Airborne and Assault Division in Pskov, whose several units have been practically destroyed. However, this formation is still based only 50 kilometers away from our border.

On the one hand, the announcement of mobilization by Russia was a relatively logical step, which was taken illogically late. Not much has changed in military terms.

On the other hand, we should very carefully monitor the developments in Russia and think about what to do with people escaping from mobilization, especially of Estonian origin. According to various estimates, there are 100,000 people in Russia who may have the right to Estonian citizenship. What do we do when hundreds or thousands of them try to flee from mobilization and reach Estonia? How shall we react? Should we send them back? Give them shelter? Some third option?

The situation for Russia's neighbors is tense, not so much because of the mobilization, but due to the related effects of the mobilization.