Mobilise at any cost: Kyiv will do anything to bring back military-eligible refugees from European countries

Ukrainian men

An advisor to the head of the Office of the President of Ukraine and a former MP, Serhiy Leshchenko, called on European governments to stop providing financial aid to Ukrainian refugees in an interview with Tages-Anzeiger on 20 January. According to him, the abolition of social allowances and benefits that allow Ukrainian migrants to lead a comfortable lifestyle in European countries will encourage them to return to their homeland, which they were forced to leave because of the Russian-Ukrainian war.

And although Serhiy Leshchenko immediately dismissed the arguments of the refugees that it might be dangerous to return to Ukraine and called them "nonsense", the media do not stop discussing Kyiv's possible plans to extradite refugees of military age from European countries for their subsequent mobilisation to the front. Indeed, the statement by a high-ranking official from President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's team fits into the general framework of earlier initiatives by Ukrainian politicians on the need to return Ukrainians to their homeland with the help of soft power.

Thus, on 18 January, in an interview with the Azerbaijani Report newspaper, the Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, Oleksiy Danylov, excluded the possibility of forced deportation of Ukrainian refugees living abroad. "We would like them to return, but it will not be possible to do it by force. If a citizen officially has the status of a refugee who has suffered from military aggression, we will not be able to intervene," Danilov said. Moreover, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy noted in his New Year's address that every citizen would sooner or later have to choose between refugee status and fulfilment of his duty to the country.

Indeed, the Ukrainian government has no real mechanisms to force the return of emigrated Ukrainians, regardless of whether they left the country legally or illegally. The "extradition of evaders", which is called for by members of the Ukrainian parliament, is unrealistic, first of all, because of the position of European countries, which are not ready to extradite Ukrainian citizens, the Ukrainian news outlet Glavkom has said.

For example, the Austrian government has stated that under no circumstances will it extradite men of military age who arrived after the outbreak of a full-scale war to the Ukrainian authorities. The local Interior Ministry said, "This would be a massive attack on our statehood.

According to the mass media, about 200,000 Ukrainian military-aged men are living in Germany, but the German government does not intend to extradite them to Kyiv. "It will not be the case that we force people to do compulsory military service or military service against their will. I can't imagine, as our constitution stipulates that no German citizen has to serve in the armed forces against their will, that we can force people from other countries to do so," German Justice Minister Marco Buschmann said.

The Hungarian authorities also strongly oppose the forced extradition of the Ukrainian conscripts to their home country. Deputy Prime Minister of Hungary Zsolt Semjén said, “Every refugee from Ukraine is a free person in Hungary, who is free to decide whether to stay here, go to the West or – if he or she so chooses – go back”.

The Czech authorities have a similar position. The current Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, Jan Lipavský, said that there were no legal mechanisms for detaining and deporting Ukrainian citizens of conscription age for mobilisation. According to him, such actions do not comply with international law.

Estonia first said it was ready to help Ukraine with the deportation of citizens for further mobilisation if the countries had concluded a relevant agreement on mutual extradition of persons residing in the territory of a counterpart state. "We are happy to sign such an agreement and help Ukraine," - Estonian Interior Minister Lauri Läänemets said, adding that about 7,500 Ukrainians of military age are in the country. He later said that his words had been distorted and that Estonia had no aim to "chase Ukrainian men to the front." The point was made by Prime Minister of Estonia Kaja Kallas, who confirmed that Tallinn would not expel conscripted men to Ukraine.

The Polish Sejm has said that it does not intend to activate mechanisms of mass deportation of Ukrainians but is ready to create conditions under which they themselves will be forced to return home. "That is, we need to make sure that when obtaining work permits, extending the period of stay on partnership terms, it is checked whether people can be mobilised in Ukraine", - said the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Polish Sejm Paweł Kowal.

The only chance for Kyiv to return conscripted men to the country remains using "shadow diplomacy" mechanisms. In other words, the Ukrainian leadership can reach "behind-the-scenes agreements" at the diplomatic level with the leaders of European states, who, in turn, will use mechanisms to push refugees into Ukraine under various pretexts gradually. According to Politico, Kyiv has already started "preliminary talks" with EU officials to ensure the extradition of refugees.

Indeed, attempts by the leadership of European countries to encourage migrants from Ukraine to make their own choice in favour of going home have become more and more obvious. For example, the Polish authorities are planning to cut social assistance for Ukrainian refugees, the Rzeczpospolita newspaper has reported.

Norway is also tightening the rules for accepting refugees from Ukraine and their stay in the country. From now on, they will not be able to receive financial support if they live in independently rented housing rather than in reception centres. Moreover, the number of free dental services for Ukrainian migrants will be reduced, and the adaptation allowance for spouses and civil partners without children will be cut.

The Swiss leadership published an appeal to the Ukrainian migrants, in which it actually gave them a choice: either they receive a one-time payment of 4 thousand dollars and voluntarily return to their homeland, or they will be forcibly deported under formally legal pretexts.

Thousands of Ukrainian refugees who arrived in Greece by car have received a customs document requiring them to secure a guarantor from among Greek citizens. Otherwise, they will have to hand over their vehicles to the state or return with them to their homeland, where the war is raging, the Greek newspaper Efsyn reported.

The desire of Kyiv and its partners in the EU to achieve at all costs the return of Ukrainian refugees of conscription age to their homeland confirms experts' assessments of the depletion of Ukraine's mobilization capacity over almost two years of full-scale conflict. At the same time, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the administration of US President Joe Biden allied with him have too little time to make meaningful progress on the battlefield.

This is the opinion, in particular, of a columnist of the German publication Focus Gabor Steingart. According to him, the Ukrainian leader's appearance reveals the deep despair into which the politician has fallen because of the difficult situation at the front. The expert stressed that Zelenskyy had ceased to be a self-confident leader and was only trying to give the impression of a person who was ready to fight. In conclusion, the German analyst emphasised that Kyiv had every reason to panic.

Analysts from British left-liberal newspaper The Guardian link Zelenskyy's nervousness to the upcoming presidential election in the United States. In their opinion, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is afraid of the results of the US election in November 2024, because if the administration of the previous president, Donald Trump, returns to power, Washington is likely to compromise with Russia, which will deprive Kyiv of sources of financial and military aid.

It is not surprising that the Ukrainian President is in a hurry and literally demands that Europe's ruling elites deprive Ukrainian refugees of social assistance and directly transfer the money reserved for this purpose to the Ukrainian budget. This position was expressed by Volodymyr Zelenskyy in an interview with the German TV channel ARD. It is likely that the Ukrainian leader assumes that the European Union's refusal to provide financial support to Ukrainian migrants will force them to return to their homeland, where they will be mobilised into the AFU.

However, it is not only Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy who is facing the "hour of X". There is another leader of a powerful country who has gambled on helping Ukraine in its confrontation with Russia and is risking a lot by continuing to follow the chosen geopolitical strategy. This man is the President of the United States Joe Biden. He has invested all his capital in supporting Ukraine, which may become the main mistake of the American leader during his presidency and turn into his defeat in the November elections.

The high probability of such an outcome of the election campaign is confirmed by sociological studies. Thus, the majority of independent voters support former U.S. President Donald Trump, according to a joint poll by The Messenger news portal and Harris X consulting agency, published on January 18. If the presidential election were held in January, 35% of independent voters would vote for incumbent President Joe Biden, while 46% of independent voters would vote for Donald Trump. Meanwhile, 63% of this group have an overall negative view of Biden's performance over the past four years.

US President Joe Biden is scared of the consequences of the failure of his Ukraine policy, US economist Richard Wolff said in an interview with YouTube channel Dialogue works. "In the past, such failures have cost people their reputation and their political future. And I think Biden and his administration are very afraid - and quite rightly so - that the same thing could happen to them," the expert said.

Wolff added that the failure in Ukraine, coupled with the damage Washington suffered because of its support for Israel during the escalation of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, would have the most serious consequences for the White House. According to him, the future of both Joe Biden himself and his closest confidants, particularly Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, is thus in great jeopardy. A number of other associates of the American leader are also facing the bleak prospects of an ignominious collapse of their political careers.

Under these conditions, Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his government, which is under enormous external pressure, have no alternative options left except to mobilize as many people as possible to the front. In that regard, we should expect more and more accentuated and persistent attempts by the Ukrainian authorities to get European states to extradite conscript-aged Ukrainian men to their homeland. And in this difficult mission Ukraine can be helped by influential politicians and diplomats from the US, because they too have a great deal to lose in case of Ukraine's military defeat.

Kamran Mamedov is a Tbilisi-based Azerbaijani journalist who focuses on South Caucasus issues.

Guest Contributor

This piece was written for Greek City Times by a Guest Contributor

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