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People fleeing Russia after President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial mobilization of the country’s armed forces to fight in Ukraine have the right to claim asylum in the European Union, a spokesperson for the European Commission said on Thursday.

“This is an unprecedented situation,” Anita Hipper, a spokesperson responsible for migration said.

Applications would need to be considered on a case-by-case basis, Hipper said, adding work was ongoing with EU member states to find a joint approach.

The Czech foreign minister, Jan Lipavsky, struck a different tone on Thursday, however, saying the country would not give refuge to Russians who refused military service.

He understands that Russians are fleeing their country because of the “increasingly desperate decisions” of their president, Lipavsky told the CTK agency on Thursday.

However, those who do not want to fulfil their obligations towards their own state do not yet fulfil the conditions for the granting of a humanitarian visa, he explained.

A potential wave of Russians fleeing mobilization has become a matter of debate in the EU since the partial mobilization announced by President Vladimir Putin early on Wednesday.

The Finnish border guard reported an uptick in traffic from the east on Wednesday evening after Putin’s order but said compared to the period before the pandemic “the amount is still small.” Travel between Finland and Russia was a vexed issue even before the mobilization order with Russian tourists travelling to the bloc amid the Ukraine war causing major public outrage.

Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said on Wednesday that Finland would find its own solution to the issue of Russian tourist visas amid the increased travel from Russia.

“Finland does not want to become a transit country for Schengen visas issued by other countries,” Haavisto said, according to public broadcaster Yle. “There is no moral justification for Russian holidays to continue as they are.” Helsinki had raised the visa issue several times in the EU, he said.

But the border with Russia should not be closed completely, he said, as there are still legitimate reasons to enter Finland.

Finland shares a 1,340-kilometre border with Russia. This means that the Nordic country has by far the longest border with Russia among the EU member states.

According to Yle, Russian tourists have so far been able to enter the Schengen area by bus or car across the Finnish border despite the war their country is waging against Ukraine.

The three Baltic EU members - Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia - as well as Poland jointly placed tougher restrictions on Russian citizens wishing to enter their countries starting this week. All four countries will from now on no longer permit Russian citizens with a Schengen visa for tourism, business, sport or cultural purposes to enter their territory.

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