WORLD: Mr. Friedrich, the Kremlin recently announced a de facto mobilization, the German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD) is in favor of asylum for deserters - is Germany now experiencing a mass arrival of young Russians?
Rudi Friedrich: In fact, we and our partner Pro Asyl have received hundreds of inquiries from Russia in the past few days; Many of those who are now leaving their country in a hurry have no idea what to do and suddenly have to make existential decisions: Which country do I go to, where do I end up? The most important thing we can offer right now is serious information on asylum law, contacts to aid organizations, lawyers and so on.
But: There can certainly be no question of a mass arrival, and I can't say anything about the exact number of refugees since the mobilization last week, that's speculation for the time being.
WORLD: What are the numbers you are assuming?
Friedrich: Based on estimates, we know for sure that around 100,000 Russians have left their country since the beginning of the war. For the most part, however, they are not “deserters” but so-called “evaders from military service”.
WORLD: What's the difference?
Friedrich: Deserters are soldiers who run away from barracks or war events. Then there are conscientious objectors, in Russia there have been around 1,000 people a year who officially register for alternative social services – theoretically this is still possible for some, but that can be over at any time if the Kremlin abolishes this possibility.
And then there are the draft evaders, by far the largest group. These are mainly those who, since February, suspected that they could be registered and confiscated, and therefore left Russia in good time for neighboring countries. They make up the bulk of the Russians who have fled so far, most of whom are stuck in countries like Turkey, Kazakhstan, Georgia or Armenia. In the European Union, an estimated 1,000 have applied for asylum, in Germany a few hundred.
WORLD: When Interior Minister Faeser now says that deserters who are threatened with repression and who “bravely oppose” the Putin regime should receive protection in Germany…
Friedrich: … these people are not meant. Maybe 20 or 40 people benefit from such regulations. Because what does "bravely oppose" mean? Most of them disappear quietly from Russia to non-EU countries and do not even come here to apply for asylum. The protection offered by the federal government is above all lip service.
WORLD: What does that mean for those who are now staying abroad?
Friedrich: Take the following example of a group of young Russians who fled to Turkey on tourist visas. These visas eventually expired and there is no asylum procedure for them in Turkey. However, no EU country that we approached on behalf of the group with a request for entry permits has granted this.
WORLD: How is the group today?
Friedrich: Contact was lost, so they are probably stranded in Turkey as illegal immigrants – with the constant risk of being caught and deported and still ending up at the front.
WORLD: Your demand is to issue visas for such evaders. The Balts and Poles, however, are doing the opposite and have tightened entry rules - because they warn against Russian agents.
Friedrich: I assume that the Russian spies have been here for a long time, with or without conscientious objectors.
WORLD: In addition, Ukrainian organizations in Germany say: Just because someone refuses doesn't mean that they are against Russian President Vladimir Putin or for Ukraine, but only that they don't want to fight themselves - and they should then deal with them Ukrainian refugees share shelters?
Friedrich: Not all evaders are nice people - but if you want to support war prevention, you have to support these refugees. I would prefer it if Ukrainian and Russian conscientious objectors stood together against this war.
WORLD: Your association estimates that around 140,000 men have also evaded military service in Ukraine, even more than in Russia. How do you get that number?
Friedrich: That is an estimate based on UNHCR figures. Many are surprised when they hear that we have received requests for help from Russians as well as from a large number of objectors from Ukraine.
WORLD: Conscientious objection is a human right recognized by the United Nations, but the Ukrainian state is currently criminalizing it. Why are there no public offers of asylum for Ukrainian refusers?
Friedrich: First of all, everyone is granted a humanitarian stay. And there is war politics: delivery of weapons, goals of conquest - these things are discussed at length, alternative ideas, on the other hand, have a hard time. Neither the Allies nor Ukraine take the Ukrainian conscientious objectors as an opportunity to consider what they could do instead of a pure war policy; there are absolutely no approaches to ending the war as such.
"They waited up to nine hours," says WELT reporter Daniel Koop about the fleeing Russians at the Finnish border. Russia carefully checks who wants to leave the country and why. The Finnish government is also critical of the escape: they should stay there and fight against Putin.
WORLD: There is: The West supports Ukraine in the implementation of sovereign goals, the resulting pressure plus economic sanctions are intended to push Putin into negotiations or as a cause of war from office.
Friedrich: That too is a military strategy. On the other hand, there is the idea of refusing war – which the West does not sufficiently support with its visa and asylum policy, and for which several years of imprisonment are currently threatened in Ukraine. The fact that the European Union does nothing about this while saying that Ukraine is defending human rights is negligent. When, if not during a war, should the right to conscientious objection apply?
WORLD: Is there little sympathy towards Ukrainian refusers at the moment?
Friedrich: Conscientious objection to military service was never held in high esteem; many see it as an exceptional right. I would say, however, that conscientious objection is a key non-military way of countering war.
"Kick-off Politics" is WELT's daily news podcast. The most important topic analyzed by WELT editors and the dates of the day. Subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, among others, or directly via RSS feed.