West urged to 'back brain drain from Russia' by taking in dissenters

Europe and US told to grant asylum to deserting soldiers and civilian exiles

Russian troops have lost tanks to Ukrainian armed forces and made slow progress in their invasion. EPA

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Europe and the US have been urged to orchestrate a “brain drain” from Russia by granting visas to people who oppose the war and soldiers who desert the armed forces during the invasion of Ukraine.

With western defence officials reporting low morale among Russian troops, a coalition of 40 charities in Germany said any deserters or soldiers who refuse to fight should be eligible for fast-track asylum in Europe.

The same offer should be extended to Belarusian troops who decline to assist the Kremlin’s offensive and Ukrainians who refuse to join their country’s military, the charities said in a letter to the German parliament.

Although such deserters can already seek asylum through regular procedures, one of the charities, Pro Asyl, said such applications had previously received mixed results in Germany.

“Our aim is that deserters and conscientious objectors to the war in Ukraine should be given protection and asylum in an uncomplicated fashion,” the charities wrote.

Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala has suggested a similar idea, suggesting a coalition of Nato and EU countries willing to grant asylum to deserters.

Ukraine says there have been widespread desertions from the Russian army, with some soldiers reputedly fleeing to the annexed Crimean Peninsula after the invasion failed to achieve quick results.

US officials have played down such suggestions but described morale in the Russian forces as low, as their offensive stalls and they face logistical problems including an apparent lack of secure communications.

Russia has largely censored domestic criticism of what President Vladimir Putin calls a special military operation in Ukraine, but some protesters have taken to the streets and others have gone into exile abroad.

Irina Plaks, an analyst at the Atlantic Council in Washington, called on the US to “back a brain drain from Russia” by taking in educated people in a move that could damage Russia's economic and technological development – one of the stated aims of western sanctions.

“A low-cost policy option with a high impact on Russia, welcoming high-skill immigrants would dent Russia’s economy and stifle its burgeoning technology and defence industries,” she said.

“It would also allow receiving countries to benefit from an influx of skills and expertise, as well as undermine Putin’s propaganda demonising the West.”

The calls to take in Russian exiles come as Europe scrambles to deal with the arrival of millions of refugees from Ukraine – one of the continent's biggest movements of people since the Second World War.

The UN's refugee agency is backing Poland's calls for more international assistance as more than 2.3 million people have arrived on its territory from Ukraine since the war began.

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Updated: March 30, 2022, 10:39 AM