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NEW YORK — Europe should allow in Russian citizens seeking to flee the country, European Council President Charles Michel said, as he blasted Russia’s “web of lies” in an address to the United Nations General Assembly.
In an interview with POLITICO on the sidelines of the U.N. meeting in New York, Michel said that the EU should show an “openness to those who don’t want to be instrumentalized by the Kremlin.”
The announcement by Putin of a partial mobilization of troops earlier this week had changed the dynamic of the war, he said.
While Michel, who heads the European Council representing EU heads of state and government, said he was open to consultation with EU colleagues about how this can be achieved, he said: “In principle I think that … the European Union [should] host those who are in danger because of their political opinions. If in Russia people are in danger because of their political opinions, because they do not follow this crazy Kremlin decision to launch this war in Ukraine, we must take this into consideration.
“I agree on the idea that we should very quickly cooperate and coordinate because this is a new fact — this partial mobilization.”
Michel’s comments come ahead of a meeting of EU ambassadors on Monday organized within the framework of the EU Integrated Political Crisis Response (IPCR) — a mechanism that allows for rapid and coordinated decision-making at EU political level at times of crisis.
The question of whether to allow Russians to seek refuge in Europe is a complex one. This month, the European Union agreed to suspend a visa facilitation agreement with Russia, after several countries objected to Russian citizens visiting and holidaying in Europe when the Putin government is waging war in Ukraine.
But with Russian citizens now queueing up at the border to leave the country, the EU is facing calls to open its borders.
Ambassadors will likely discuss the options that might be available to the EU at Monday’s meeting. Among the possibilities is that the EU could grant humanitarian status to certain incoming Russian citizens, rather than refugee status. While the EU activated its special Temporary Protection Directive for the first time in its history in March, giving Ukrainians the right to live and work in the European Union for a set period of time, it is unlikely that such a scheme will be introduced for Russians.
In particular, some Baltic countries are concerned that opening the door to Russians could allow pro-Putin operatives to enter the EU. Finland closed its doors to Russian tourists on Friday after the number of people arriving at the Finland-Russia border soared in recent days.
However, the German government indicated that it is open to taking Russian dissenters who are facing serious oppression.
“Our deliberations will be informed by the available expertise and will take into account the perspectives and concerns of our fellow member states,” said a document circulated by the Czech presidency and seen by POLITICO ahead of Monday’s meeting.
Earlier Friday in his address to the United Nations General Assembly, Michel blasted the Kremlin, calling for Russia’s expulsion from the U.N. Security Council. “When a permanent member of the Security Council launches an unprovoked and unjustified attack, condemned by the General Assembly, that member’s suspension of the Security Council should be automatic.”
He also denounced Russia’s “poisonous lies” about the war in Ukraine, including its suggestion that the security of Russia is under threat from the West. “That’s false. The Kremlin is trying, in vain I hope, to mobilize the entire world against any imaginary enemy. Absolutely no one has threatened, attacked or invaded Russia. Absolutely no one in Europe wanted a conflict with Russia. What interest would we have in imperiling the security and prosperity of everyone?”
The European Council president also branded Russia’s “lie” that it is preventing an alleged genocide of Russian-speaking people in Ukraine as “false and repugnant.”
Wrapping up a six-day visit to the United Nations, Michel said that a key challenge for the European Union was to communicate its message to countries in the Global South and other parts of the world about its stance on Ukraine. He is due to hold a series of bilateral meetings next week with leaders from the Asia-Pacific region when he attends the funeral of the late Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
“We need to show that we are not lecturing anyone, but what we are doing is we are advocating, we’re arguing and we can do that with respect, with facts, with objective and scientific arguments, and by also listening to different opinions,” he said.
Jacopo Barigazzi contributed reporting.