Ukrainian Refugees Are Being Welcomed With Open Arms... But Russian Refugees? Not So Much

Reporting today from Ustrzyki, Poland, Farah Stockman wrote that "Before Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, Ukrainians faced discrimination and disrespect in Poland, where they tend to work in low-wage jobs, like driving cabs or picking apples. Now, the Ukrainian flag flies at the Warsaw City Hall, and the Ukrainian anthem rings out from St Mary’s Basilica in Krakow... It feels as if the entire country of Poland has joined the effort to welcome Ukrainian refugees... 'We were in the same situation in 1939,' said Susan Grey, the opera singer, referring to the Polish people during World War II. 'We didn’t have such an opportunity to be welcomed. We didn’t have a place to go.'" Poles told her they were welcoming Ukrainians because they are neighbors, Christians, fellow Slavs. Russians are also neighbors, Christians and fellow Slavs. Are they being welcomed too?

Public opinion in Poland-- as in the rest of Europe-- is very negative towards Russia. In the U.K., that's playing out as some tepid actions against oligarchs, blacklisting 7 more of them living in London (so 18 in all now) on Friday. The Brits also say they imposed sanctions on 386 members of the Duma, which will prevent them from traveling to Britain and freezes the assets many of them have parked there. (Britain warned them a few weeks ago so the smart ones had gotten their assets out of Britain already.) The kleptocrats sanctioned on Friday are:

  • Roman Abramovich, owner of Chelsea FC who also has stakes in steel giant Evraz and Norilsk Nickel

  • Oleg Deripaska who has stakes in En+ Group

  • Igor Sechin, Chief Executive of Rosneft

  • Andrey Kostin, Chairman of VTB bank

  • Alexei Miller, CEO of energy company Gazprom

  • Nikolai Tokarev, president of the Russia state-owned pipeline company Transneft

  • Dmitri Lebedev, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Bank Rossiya

There are 3 parts to the blacklisting: an asset freeze that prevents any UK citizen, or any business in the UK, from dealing with any funds or economic resources which are owned, held or controlled by the designated person and which are held in the UK. It will also prevent funds or economic resources being provided to or for the benefit of the designated person; a travel ban which means that the designated person must be refused leave to enter or to remain in the UK; and seizure of private jets and yachts belonging to them.

But what about the Russians who are as sickened by Putin and his attack as everyone else is? According to NY Times reporters Anton Troianovoski (reporting from Istanbul) and Patrick Kingsley (reporting from Tbilisi), tens thousands of Russians have felt Russia. In fact, tens of thousands have gone to Istanbul since the invasion of Ukraine (and the sanctions) began, "outraged about what they see as a criminal war, worried about conscription or the possibility of a closed Russian border, or concerned that their livelihoods are no longer viable back home. And they are just the tip of the iceberg. Tens of thousands more traveled to countries like Armenia, Georgia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan which are better known as sources of migration to Russia. At the land border with Latvia-- open only to those with European visas-- travelers reported waits lasting hours.

I'm going to guess that many of the Russians who fled to Armenia, Georgia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan are mostly Armenians, Georgians, Uzbekis, Kyrgyzs and Kazakhs. But, reported Troianovski and Kingsley, "some who have fled are bloggers, journalists or activists who feared arrest under Russia’s draconian new law criminalizing what the state deems 'false information' about the war. Others are musicians and artists who see no future for their crafts in Russia. And there are workers in tech, law and other industries who saw the prospect of comfortable, middle-class lives-- let alone any possibility for moral acceptance of their government-- dissipate overnight. They left behind jobs and family and money stuck in Russian bank accounts which they can no longer access. They fear being tarred as Russians abroad as the West isolates the country for its deadly invasion, and they reel over the loss of a positive Russian identity."

The speed and scale of the flight reflect the tectonic shift the invasion touched off inside Russia. For all of Putin's repression, Russia until last month remained a place with extensive travel connections to the rest of the world, a mostly uncensored internet giving a platform to independent media, a thriving tech industry and a world-class arts scene. Slices of Western middle-class life-- Ikea, Starbucks, affordable foreign cars-- were widely available.
But when they woke up on Feb. 24, many Russians knew that all that was over. Dmitri Aleshkovsky, a journalist who spent years promoting Russia’s emerging culture of charitable giving, got in his car the next day and drove to Latvia.
“It became totally clear that if this red line has been crossed, nothing will hold him back anymore,” Mr. Aleshkovsky said of Mr. Putin. “Things will only get worse.”
...[A] generation of Russian exiles faces the daunting prospect of starting from scratch. And all face the gnawing reality of being seen as representing a country that launched a war of aggression, even though many insist they have spent their lives opposing Putin.
In Georgia — where, the government says, 20,000 Russians have arrived since the start of the war-- exiles have faced an intimidating environment, full of anti-Russian graffiti and hostile comments on social media.
“We tried to explain that Russians are not Putin-- we hate Putin, too,” said Leyla Nepesova, an activist from Memorial International, a Russian rights group recently shuttered by the Kremlin. Nepesova, 26, escaped to Georgia a week ago and has found herself tainted by association-- sworn at in the street and shouted at by a taxi driver.
“He told us, ‘You are Russians, you are occupiers,’” Nepesova said. “Russians are hated here-- and I cannot blame them.”
Many Georgians see clear parallels between the Ukraine invasion and Russia’s war on Georgia in 2008. And while most have been welcoming to the new arrivals, some have not distinguished between Russian dissidents who have fled Russia for security or moral reasons and those who support Putin.
The Bank of Georgia has demanded that new Russian customers sign a statement denouncing Putin’s invasion and acknowledging Russia’s occupation of parts of Georgia-- a problematic request to make of anyone hoping to return to Russia.
Some Georgians have even called on landlords to refuse tenancy to Russian arrivals.
“Your hands are dirty,” said a Georgian vigilante fighter currently volunteering in Ukraine, in an online video that was addressed to landlords, banks and politicians in Georgia. “Every single one of you,” the fighter, Nodari Karalashvili, added, “why are you selling all of this? With what price of blood?”
In neighboring Armenia, where the government says several thousand Russians have been arriving daily, the exiles report receiving a better welcome. Davur Dordzheir, 25, said he quit his job as a lawyer with Russia’s state-owned Sberbank, organized his financial affairs, made out a will and said goodbye to his mother. He flew to the Armenian capital, Yerevan, worried that his past public comments against the Russian government could make him a target.
“I realized that since the start of this war, I am an enemy of the state along with thousands of Russians,” he said.
In Istanbul, Ms. Borodina, the playwright, who arrived on March 5, has already lined up a designer and a Turkish printing shop to make Ukrainian flag pins for Russians to wear. It is part of her effort, she says, to “save this identity” of a Russia separate from Putin. She believes it is fair for Ukrainians to espouse hatred now for all Russians. But she is critical of people in the West who say that every Russian bears responsibility for Putin.
...Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the exiled oil tycoon who spent 10 years imprisoned in Russia, is funding a project called Kovcheg-- “The Ark”-- which is providing housing in Istanbul and Yerevan and is looking for psychologists to offer emotional support. Since its kickoff on Thursday, it has received some 10,000 inquiries.
...The pain of leaving everything behind has been excruciating, many said — along with the guilt of perhaps not having done enough to fight Mr. Putin. Alevtina Borodulina, 30, an anthropologist, joined more than 4,700 Russian scientists in signing an open letter against the war. Then, as she walked with friends on central Moscow’s Boulevard Ring, one of them pulled out a tote bag that said “no to war” and promptly got arrested.
She flew to Istanbul on March 3, met like-minded Russians at a protest supporting Ukraine and now volunteers for the Kovcheg project to help other exiles.
“It was like I was seeing the Soviet Union,” Ms. Borodulina said of her last days in Moscow. “I was thinking that the people who left the Soviet Union in the 1920s probably made a better decision than those who stayed and then ended up in the camps.”

Back to Stockman's reporting from Poland, she wrote that "It’s a commonly held view here that Ukraine must prevail, against all odds. If Ukraine loses, Poland will likely have a brutal Russian occupation and possibly a raging insurgency on its border. Mr. Putin could turn his attention to the next bite he’s going to take out of Europe. This is the contradiction at the bottom of every conversation I seem to have in Poland. Everybody tells me how important it is for Ukraine to win; what a catastrophe it will be if the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky is defeated. He’s fighting for the security of all of Europe, they say. Yet, at the same time, nobody seems to want to give Ukraine military assistance in this existential fight. To do so would put a target on Poland’s back, and drag NATO and the United States into a nuclear confrontation with Russia. This is the geopolitical reality that ties the hands of Poland, and renders the Polish people helpless bystanders to the killings next door."

That's the thinking here too. So what happens when Put decides to "reincorporate" Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania back into Russia? They're all NATO allies. I already hear grumbling about it. How about if Putin decides to annex Alaska? California" Is there a line in the sand? Or is the feat of a threat of nuclear armageddon just too powerful for the U.S. to do anything about Putin? Have you ever heard the German band, Armageddon Dildos? I suggested they record this version of Morrissey's song: