Sunday, September 25, 2022

If Russians Want Out, Let Them In

As the Russian government announced new military mobilization decrees to reverse their faltering Ukraine campaign, the world has witnessed a sharp spike in young Russian men attempting to flee the country and avoid a military call-up. This immediately poses the question: should other countries open their borders to Russians attempting to skirt military service?

One way this question is commonly debated is whether the Russians in question are morally culpable for their nation's actions in Ukraine. A common form of the argument goes something like "many of those trying now to flee Russia are hardly conscientious objectors or paragons of moral virtue. Most Russians support Putin and support the Ukraine war; they just are trying to save their own skin now that the war is going badly." While it might be one thing to give refugee status to those who've genuinely and consistently resisted Russia's war of aggression, it's another entirely to reach out and protect persons who actually support the war but simply don't like the idea of fighting in it.

One response to this argument is to observe that the people now being called up to fight are disproportionately being drawn from historically-oppressed ethnic minority groups in Russia's hinterlands -- an attempt, as one commentator grimly put it, for Russian nationalists to wage "two ethnic cleansings for the price of one."

But I'll go further: when it comes to Russian's seeking to evade military mobilization, I'm less concerned about judging any individual's moral character than I am about thwarting and sabotaging the Russian war machine to the greatest degree possible. If the Russian military is feeling starved for manpower right now, I want to burn some of their grain silos to turn the screws even more. The fewer military-aged Russian men the Russian army has available to it to deploy to the front, the happier I am.

I certainly don't want to give sanctuary to out-and-out war criminals. But consider the marginal case -- the Russian man who had no problem with the Ukraine war right up until it became a live prospect that he'd have to fight in it. I wouldn't exactly nominate that man for a Nobel Peace Prize, and no doubt many would say that a trip to the front lines would be nothing more than just deserts. Perhaps they're right -- but I care significantly less about him getting that particular form of comeuppance than I do about Russian having one fewer soldier firing bullets at Ukrainian men, women, and children.

The easier it is for Russian men to choose not to fight in this war, the harder it will be for the Russian government to get them to fight in this war. And that's my lodestar for approaching this question. Every Russian who wants out of Russia right now is another dent in an already battered Russian war machine. So if they want out, I say let them in.

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