Russian Soldiers Who Fled Ukraine War Struggle For Asylum Abroad

Russian soldiers who decided to flee the war in Ukraine have been having significant trouble finding asylum in countries outside their borders.

The Associated Press recently spoke to five Russian military officers as well as one soldier, all of whom decided to desert the Russian military after fighting its war in Ukraine.

All are facing criminal charges from Russia, and they could face 10 years or even more in a Russian prison if captured and convicted.

Each of the men are waiting to be welcomed from a western nation, but they haven’t received one as of yet. As a result, all but one of them has had to live in hiding.

The AP reports that the Russian soldiers are actually of particular concern to western countries that are struggling with the growing diaspora in Russia. The question is whether these soldiers are actually spies, war criminals or heroes.

Since Russia launched its all-out assault on Ukraine in February of 2022, asylum claims from Russian citizens have significantly increased. However, few of those cases are actually winning protection from foreign nations.

Many policymakers aren’t sure as to whether they should consider these Russian citizens who are living in exile as potential future assets, or whether they would serve as huge risks to their own national security.

One person who’s in favor of accepting the asylum applications is Andrius Kubilius, who was once Lithuania’s prime minister and now serves on the European Parliament.

He said that cultivating Russian citizens who are in opposition to President Vladimir Putin is strategically in the best interest of western nations, as fewer soldiers for Russia results in an army that’s much weaker.

As he said:

“Not to believe in Russian democracy is a mistake. To say that all Russians are guilty is a mistake.”

Mediazona, an independent media outlet in Russia, documented in excess of 7,300 different cases that are in courts in Russia against soldiers who are AWOL just since September of 2022. These cases included charges of desertion, which is the country’s harshest such charge, which increased by six times in just the last year.

In just the first two months of 2024, more than 500 people have sought to desert the Russian military by reaching out to a group known as Idite Lesom, or “Get Lost.”

The group is run by activists in the Republic of Georgia.

In the spring of 2023, only 3% of the requests it received for help were from soldiers. In January of 2024 alone, one-third came of those requests came from soldiers, Grigory Sverdlin, the group’s head, said.

While the number of deserters who are known still remain small compared to the overall group numbers of Russia’s military, it still indicates what the morale might be like there.

As Sverdlin said:

Obviously, Russian propaganda is trying to sell us a story that all Russia supports Putin and his war. But, that’s not true.”