Will EU expel its Ukrainian draft dodgers?

22 Dec

This (abridged) from The Economist, August 10 2023:

The numbers of war dead are a secret in Ukraine but we get a sense of the scale from the rapidly expanding military cemeteries in every town. At Lychakiv cemetery, space quickly ran out so attention turned to a grassy slope where a war memorial had been built in the  Soviet era. As the rows of graves marched up the hill, the gravediggers unexpectedly found skeletons …[/note]</h6>

A day earlier, on August 9, CNN reported that Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell had offered this reassurance to his fellow Americans:

People think … we shouldn’t be doing this [but] we haven’t lost a single American in this war. Most of the money [to] Ukraine is actually spent in the US, replenishing weapons, more modern weapons. So it’s actually employing people here and improving our own military for what may lie ahead.

As McConnell urges his country to fight Russia down to the last Ukrainian, I’m minded of a scene in Oh what a lovely war! – Joan Littlewood’s splendidly non-realist WW1 satire. As English troops march for the first time to the front, they meet a battle hardened Australian platoon, one of whose corporals informs them:

There’s a shortage.

What, of ammunition?

Nah. Coffins.

Ukrainian men of fighting age – with 60 the new 39 – would appreciate the gallows humour. After all, two thirds of a million have voted with their feet to take refuge in EU states. Of which Andrew Korybko, writing today, notes:

As the conflict finally winds down, the EU can either go with the flow or throw more meat into the grinder, the latter of which would be refugees this time.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Umerov told German media that Kiev will soon call upon its citizens abroad to come back home to serve in their armed forces, though it hasn’t yet decided what to do if they don’t voluntarily return. Few are expected to comply since the whole reason why 650,000 18-60 year-old military-age males fled to the EU since February 2022 was to dodge the draft, after which many of them were officially recognized as refugees with all the legal protections that this status entails.

Kiev’s impending conscription demands, which come amidst the crisis caused by its failure to replenish what Russia claims to be that side’s nearly 400,000 casualties since the start of the special operation, will therefore be rebuffed by the EU but will also throw the bloc into a dilemma. On the one hand, it hopes to soon surmount Hungary’s resistance to funding this conflict over the next year, but on the other, no amount of funding will make a difference if there aren’t enough troops to continue fighting.

The domestic pool thereof has drastically dwindled over the past 22 months of hostilities, hence why Ukraine now plans to conscript those who fled abroad to the EU, which can’t legally deport those who’ve already been officially recognized as refugees. In theory, however, Kiev could put out Interpol arrest warrants for them if they refuse to come back home to serve. That would pressure the bloc to send them back, even if they have to first rescind their status on whatever pretext, but it could also backfire.

Although some members of the public and certain European opposition parties have turned on Ukrainian refugees, many more people and practically all ruling European governments still support them. Each is thrown into their own dilemmas, however. The first category doesn’t support continuing this conflict, yet deporting Ukrainian refugees would do precisely that, while the second wants to protect those same refugees but also wants to continue the conflict, which is difficult without deporting them.

Few are expected to rowdily protest the status quo of letting them remain in the EU no matter how insistent Ukraine is about having them return, but large-scale and potentially violent protests are expected if the policy changes and they’re forcibly deported. In the event that the eurocrats keep everything as it is, then continued Ukrainian insistence risks turning many diehard supporters against it on the grounds that Kiev wants to inhumanely send legally designated refugees to their likely doom.

The irony is that those who strongly back that country in this conflict are contributing to its humanitarian crisis by cheering their own country’s military aid that’s responsible for perpetuating it at the cost of almost half a million lives so far. Likewise, those who want this crisis to end after souring on that country are largely in favor of expelling Ukrainian refugees, yet that policy would only perpetuate it. As the conflict finally winds down, the EU can either go with the flow or throw more meat into the grinder.

* * *

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *