Kazakhstan to ‘ensure safety’ of Russians fleeing draft

President Tokayev says his country must take care of those escaping ‘hopeless situation’ in neighbouring Russia.

Russians lineup after crossing the border at Verkhny Lars between Georgia and Russia
Thousands of Russians are reported to have fled the country since Moscow's partial mobilisation order last week [Zurab Tsertsvadze/AP]

Kazakhstan will guarantee the safety of Russians fleeing their country as Russia moves to conscript hundreds of thousands of army reserves to fight in Ukraine, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has said.

“A lot of people from Russia have come here over the last few days,” Tokayev said in a speech on Tuesday.

“Most of them are forced to leave because of the hopeless situation. We must take care of them and ensure their safety.”

Tokayev’s remarks came as Kazakhstan’s interior ministry said nearly 100,000 Russians had crossed the two countries’ shared border measuring 7,644 kilometres (4,762 miles) – the world’s second-longest land border – since Russia issued what it called a “partial mobilisation” order last week.

Russians do not need a visa or even a passport to enter Kazakhstan, just their Russian identity papers. The Russian language is also widely spoken in the vast but sparsely populated country, which is home to a large ethnic Russian minority.

Tokayev said his government, which has refused to support what Russia calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine, will discuss the growing crisis directly with Moscow, a traditional ally.

‘Not going back to Russia’

Meanwhile, Kazakhstan’s interior ministry has published a proposal to change immigration rules that would limit to three months the time Russians can stay in Kazakhstan unless they have a passport.

While some Kazakhs have already called for border closures or restrictions on Russians’ entry, others have arranged meeting points for arriving Russians and set up volunteer networks to help them find shelter amid reports of limited availability at hotels and hostels.

A resident in the country’s largest city, Almaty, told the Reuters news agency she had taken in three young men from Russia on Monday who were preparing to spend the night on the street.

Others who fled Russia were staying with friends, and expressed certainty they would not return home, come what may.

“I am crashing on my friends’ couch right now,” a 32-year-old Russian IT professional, who had moved to Almaty, told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

“I do not have a clear plan on what to do next, but I am definitely not going back to Russia. I hope to find work here.”

Surge in crossings into Georgia

Authorities in Georgia, which also shares a border with Russia, have reported a rise in crossings from its neighbour as well.

“Four to five days ago 5,000 to 6,000 [Russians] were arriving in Georgia daily. The number has grown to some 10,000 per day,” Vakhtang Gomelauri, the country’s interior minister, told reporters on Tuesday.

Gomelauri’s comments came as the local interior ministry in North Ossetia, a Russian region that borders Georgia, said there was a tail-back of about 5,500 cars waiting to cross the frontier. It described the situation in the area as “extremely tense”.

Al Jazeera’s Mohamed Vall, reporting from Moscow, said Russia was “revamping” its mobilisation strategy in response to the attempts by groups of Russian men to escape the country in order to avoid being called up to fight in Ukraine.

“We have just heard about a new strategy of moving some of the conscription centres to the border crossing areas, right where thousands of Russians are trying to flee and cross into other countries,” Vall said.

“One of those has already become operational and that’s in North Ossetia, on the border with Georgia. People who go there thinking they can escape are met with conscription officers.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies