Kiev has offered Russian deserters sanctuary in Germany, apparently without asking Berlin
For months, the Ukrainian military and intelligence services have tried to entice Russian soldiers to desert and surrender, promising them asylum in European countries such as Germany and the Netherlands. This week, the German government said that no such program existed.
Ukraine is "playing a very cynical game with Russian soldiers who are considering deserting," the German outlet NachDenkSeiten noted on Friday, pointing to the letter Bundestag member Andrej Hunko (Die Linke) sent to the Interior Ministry about the promises made by Kiev, and the response he received.
"Is it true that Russian deserters have the opportunity to apply for asylum in Germany through the Ukrainian state project 'I Want to Live,' and what other similar or comparable programs is the federal government aware of, through which Russian deserters in Ukrainian captivity can apply for asylum in EU member states, including Germany?" Hunko asked in his letter, sent on Wednesday.
"No. The federal government is also not aware of any other similar or comparable programs as related to your question," responded Mahmut Ozdemir, the parliamentary secretary for the Interior Ministry.
The project Hunko mentioned is run by the Ukrainian coordination center for prisoners of war, with the cooperation of the defense ministry and intelligence service. The program's spokesman Vitaly Matvienko told the US-funded broadcaster Current Time last October that Russians who surrender "can apply for asylum in Germany and the Netherlands," whose governments have "previously said that they are ready to accept such prisoners of war."
Kiev's offer "has obviously turned out to be a fake," Hunko told NDS, but added that the idea itself makes sense, and that Die Linke wants Berlin to set up an actual asylum program for war objectors - from Russia and Ukraine alike.
Ozdemir's response doesn't just mean that the Ukrainian government has been less than honest, however. It also casts doubt on the public pronouncements of his own ministry from September last year, after Moscow announced a partial call-up of reservists.
On September 23, Interior Minister Nancy Faeser offered political asylum to "anyone who courageously opposes Putin' regime" - as quoted by her spokesman, Maximilian Kall - while government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said that Germany wanted a "viable solution" for the anticipated influx of Russian deserters. Meanwhile, Justice Minister Marco Buschmann tweeted that "anyone who hates [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's path and loves liberal democracy is warmly welcomed in Germany."
How many - if any - Russians actually tried to avail themselves of this offer, or the Ukrainian program, remains unclear.