As Finland looks set to ban Russian tourists from crossing the border to escape being drafted into Vladimir Putin’s army, Estonia has warned residents they will be banned from the EU if they too join up.
On Wednesday, Russia’s leader – faced with a series of defeats in Ukraine – announced a partial mobilisation that could see 300,000 reserves called up to fight.
The threat of mass conscription has sparked protests around the country, and military-aged men have continued to flee in droves.
In Estonia, some 20,000 residents with Russian citizenship that could be called up have been warned against answering the draft.
“We will not stop anyone to follow the orders but participation in a crime against peace is a criminal offence under Estonian law,” said Eerik-Niiles Kross, an Estonian politician, diplomat, and former chief of intelligence.
“An Estonian resident joining the Russian military in war against Ukraine will lose the residency permit and will be banned from the EU. There is no return for those who go.
“However, if a Russian living in Estonia receives a mobilisation order from Russia and decides not to go, Estonia gives him all legal protection and will not let Russia to force anyone.
“All legal residents with Russian citizenship in Estonia have the constitutional protection and same rights as all other residents.”
Russia does not have jurisdiction to prosecute anyone in Estonia who does not follow draft orders, he added.
Finland to ban Russian tourists
It comes as Finland looks set to bow to pressure from its public and said on Friday evening it would stop Russian tourists from crossing the border in the next few days.
It comes amid reports border traffic has increased by 107% in the last week.
“The aspiration and purpose is to significantly reduce the number of people coming to Finland from Russia,” President Sauli Niinistö told state broadcaster Yle.
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At Russia’s southern border, traffic queues stretched for six miles and some drivers abandoned their vehicles.
Similar scenes were spotted at airports, as dozens of flights out of the country – with tickets sold at sky-high prices – carried men to international destinations such as Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Serbia, where Russians do not need visas.
The EU banned direct flights between its 27 member states and Russia after the attack on Ukraine and recently agreed to limit issuing Schengen visas, which allow free movement across much of Europe.
Four out of five EU countries that border Russia – Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Poland – also recently decided to turn away Russian tourists.
Ukraine’s promise to Russian troops
As Russia steps up its conscription of citizens, Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged troops to surrender to his country’s forces.
It comes as “sham” referendums continue in contested territory, which could lead to formal annexation of Ukraine’s land.
In his nightly address, he said: “What is Russia fighting for? Every citizen of Russia knows – even if many do not admit it, they know for sure – that it is Russia that brings evil.
“Ukraine guarantees every Russian soldier who surrenders three things. First, you will be treated in a civilised manner, in accordance with all conventions.
“Second, no one will know the circumstances of your surrender, no one in Russia will know that your surrender was voluntary.
“And third, if you are afraid to return to Russia and do not want an exchange, we will find a way to ensure this as well.”
‘Come and die with us in the trenches’
Protests over mobilisation have taken place in more than a dozen cities across Russia, with girls as young as 14 arrested.
More than 700 people have been arrested in Saturday’s protests, according to human rights organisation OVD-Info. Hundreds more were detained earlier this week.
Long-standing threats of detention for attending anti-government rallies have not stopped some people from taking to the streets to demonstrate against mobilisation.
In Omsk in Siberia, video appears to show some of those who have been drafted for the war in Ukraine fighting with local police.
It is alleged that people called on the police to “come and die with them in the trenches”.