Foreign minister says Russians fleeing draft won’t be granted humanitarian visas in Czechia

The centre for the draftees who will be sent to military units in Yakutsk, Russia

Following President Putin’s announcement of a partial mobilisation on Wednesday, there were reports of thousands of Russians leaving the country to avoid the call-up. Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský has said that Russians fleeing their homeland for this reason do not fulfil the conditions for a humanitarian visa in the Czech Republic.

I spoke to political analyst Pavel Havlíček and started by asking him to clarify what the conditions are for being granted a humanitarian visa in Czechia.

“Basically the Czech stance is very similar to what Poland and the Baltic states have done – categorically excluding young and middle-aged men that could be drafted into the army from being granted asylum based on that. This seems to be a political statement which needs to be clarified as regards the country’s legal obligations.

Pavel Havlíček | Photo: Igor Budykin,  Radio Prague International

“But I think overall the Czech stance has been quite harsh, and this follows the so far very strict approach of Czech diplomacy towards Russian society – with some notable exceptions, such as the Civil Society programme, which is aimed at human rights defenders, journalists, and other people in need who have faced enormous repression from the Russian regime.”

Some people might argue that this position is a bit heartless, that these people are political refugees on the one hand and on the other, would it not be beneficial to allow Russians who don’t support the Putin regime to come here rather than them being forced to stay and fight in the war? What’s your opinion on this issue?

“If we look at this from a normative standpoint then indeed it’s in our own interests to support people that are not willing to join the Russian army and oppose the regime in any sense. But the big question mark is whether it should once again be the responsibility of the European Union, or if Russians should decide for themselves and find their own way. This wouldn’t necessarily lead all of them to the European Union.

One day after the announcement of partial mobilisation,  many Russians left the country | Photo: Hayk Baghdasaryan,  ČTK/AP

“Something that has been advocated in the past by a number of Czech stakeholders is that they should stay inside the country and oppose the regime sufficiently there. Now, when faced with the mobilization, there has already been a wave of demonstrations against it, and this is probably something that some European countries would like to see happening more.

“While I think it’s quite clear that it’s in our own interests that the mobilization fails, still it is the case that we need to pick our weapons when it comes to supporting these people carefully. It doesn’t always need to be on the European Union to take on the whole burden when we are already doing as much as possible to help the Ukrainian refugees, who are the first priority.”

What is the general mood in Russia regarding the mobilization? Are a lot of defections expected? After all, the announcement made by Russia was that 300,000 people would be called up, mainly members of the reserve forces with prior military experience, and we’re talking about a country of around 144 million people…

“I think it still remains to be seen. We have seen some signals, such as the demonstrations I already mentioned, that hint at a campaign against the war – but other parts of Russian society were calling to escalate the war, to go for this additional mobilization of resources and finish what the Russian regime has started. So I think it’s very hard to generalize, and I don’t think we have very good data yet as to how Russians are positioning themselves towards this partial mobilization.

Photo illustrative: Alexander Nrjwolf,  Unsplash

“Because it is essentially a new move. It is an attempt by the Russian regime to fundamentally transform what was called a “special military operation by the Russian military forces” into an all-Russia war against Ukraine. And I think this is something quite risky. We still have to see and interpret all the consequences of this new phase of the war.

“I think for the Russian regime it will be immensely difficult to get the Russian population on board – we are seeing the first signals of that with people trying to leave the country, people buying flight tickets to different destinations around the globe to escape getting drafted into the army, and so on and so forth.

“But I don’t think we have the full picture yet – what part of Russian society is going this way and what part of Russian society will accept this push from the Russian regime and obey it once again. Because the prediction is this will not end with the 300,000, the number might climb up to a million or even more.”