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Ukraine: Russia’s appeal divides the EU


Kyiv, Ukraine –

Russia’s rush to mobilize hundreds of thousands of recruits to stem severe losses in Ukraine is a tacit acknowledgment that its “army is not capable of fighting”, the Ukrainian president said on Sunday, as divisions are emphasized in Europe on whether to welcome or turn back Russians fleeing the call.

Speaking to US television channel CBS, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy also said he was preparing for more Russian strikes on Ukraine’s electricity infrastructure, as the Kremlin seeks to increase pressure on Ukraine and its Western backers as the weather gets colder. Zelenskyy warned that this winter “will be very difficult”.

“They will fire missiles and target our power grid. It’s a challenge, but we’re not afraid of it.” he said on “Face the Nation”.

He described the Russian mobilization – his first such mobilization since World War II – as a signal of weakness, not strength, saying: “They admitted that their army was no longer able to fight with Ukraine”.

Although the European Union is now largely off-limits to most Russians, with direct flights halted and its land borders increasingly closed, an exodus of Russian men fleeing military service is creating divisions among European officials over the whether they should be provided with a safe haven.

The partial mobilization also sparks protests in Russia, with further anti-war demonstrations on Sunday.

In Dagestan, one of Russia’s poorest regions in the North Caucasus, police fired warning shots in an attempt to disperse more than 100 people who blocked a highway as they protested the military call for the Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russian media reported.

Dozens of women chanted “No to war!” in the capital of Dagestan, Makhachkala, on Sunday. Videos of the protests showed women in headscarves chasing police from the rally and standing in front of police cars carrying detained protesters, demanding their release.

Women also demonstrated in the Siberian city of Yakutsk, chanting “No to genocide! and marching in a circle around police, who then dragged some or forced them into police vans, according to videos shared by Russian media.

At least 2,000 people have been arrested in recent days for similar protests across Russia. Many of those taken away were immediately summoned.

Unconfirmed reports from Russian media that the Kremlin may soon close Russian borders to men of military age are fueling panic and further incitement to flee.

German officials have expressed their desire to help Russian men deserting military service and have called for a Europe-wide solution. Germany has offered the possibility of granting asylum to deserters and those who refuse conscription.

In France, senators argue that Europe has a duty to help and have warned that failure to grant refuge to fleeing Russians could play into Putin’s hands, fueling his narrative of Western hostility towards Russia.

“Closing our borders would correspond neither to our values ​​nor to our interests,” declared a group of more than 40 French senators. Refusing the fleeing Russians would be “a mistake by Europe in the war of communication and influence that is being played out”.

Yet other EU countries are adamant that asylum should not be offered to Russian men fleeing now – as the war has entered its eighth month. They include Lithuania, which borders Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave on the Baltic Sea. His Foreign Minister, Gabrielius Landsbergis, tweeted: “Russians must stay and fight. Against Putin.”

His Latvian counterpart, also an EU member on the border with Russia, said the exodus poses “considerable security risks” for the 27-nation bloc and those fleeing now cannot be seen as refugees. conscientious objectors since they failed to act when Russia invaded Ukraine in February. .

Many “agreed to kill Ukrainians, they didn’t protest at that time,” Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics tweeted. He added that they still had “lots of non-EU countries to go to”.

Finland also said it intended to “significantly restrict” the entry of Russians entering the EU through its border with Russia. A Finnish opposition leader, Petteri Orpo, said fleeing Russian military reservists were an “obvious” security risk and “we must put our national security first”.

Russia is continuing its appeal of hundreds of thousands of troops, seeking to undo recent losses. Without control of the skies over Ukraine, Russia is also increasingly using suicide drones from Iran, with more strikes reported Sunday in the Black Sea port city of Odessa.

For Ukrainian and Russian military planners, time is running out, with the approach of winter likely to make combat much more complicated. Already, wet weather is bringing muddy conditions that are beginning to limit the mobility of tanks and other heavy weapons, the Washington-based Institute for the Study of Warfare said Sunday.

But the think tank said Ukrainian forces were still gaining ground in their counter-offensive, launched in late August, which rolled back Russian occupation in large areas of the northeast and also prompted Putin to demand reinforcements.

The Kremlin said its initial goal was to add around 300,000 troops to its invasion force, which is struggling with equipment losses, mounting casualties and weakened morale. The mobilization marks a sea change from Putin’s previous efforts to frame the war as a limited military operation that would not interfere with the lives of most Russians.

The mobilization goes hand in hand with Kremlin-orchestrated votes in four occupied regions of Ukraine that could pave the way for their imminent annexation by Russia.

Ukraine and its Western allies claim that the referendums in the southern regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia and in the eastern regions of Lugansk and Donetsk have no legal validity, not least because several tens of thousands of their inhabitants have fled. They also call them a “sham”. Some footage showed armed Russian troops going door to door to pressure Ukrainians to vote.

Voting ends on Tuesday and will no doubt be declared a success by the Russian occupiers. The main questions then will be how long the Putin regime will annex the four regions and how this will complicate the war.

——


AP journalists Jari Tanner in Helsinki and John Leicester in Le Pecq, France, contributed.

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