Barring entry to students from the Russian Federation and Belarus is a matter of security, and not a punishment, the assistant director of the Internal Security Service (ISS) says. Focus should be placed more on those Ukrainian students and others, who have no alternative but to flee their country following Russia's invasion, he added.
It is precisely because democracies have respect for the rule of law, to the extent that the constant monitoring that would be required of Russian students in order to mitigate security risks, that means that this could not go ahead, even if there were the resources to do so, Martin Arpo, Deputy Director General of ISS, also known by its Estonian acronym, Kapo, said, following a recent University of Tartu announcement that Russian and Belarusian students would not be able to enroll on courses from the next academic year.
In a statement (link in Estonian) on the ISS website, Arpo noted that: "We welcome the decisions by those organizations who, in the current situation, have suspended the recruitment of staff or students from the Russian Federation and from Belarus (where these have not been granted international protection), in so doing leaving vacancies open for Ukrainian heroes and those in need. We consider this decision to be ethical, smart, well thought-through and responsible," adding that it was a part of the wider solidarity shown by the democratic world in response to Russian aggression against and war crimes in Ukraine.
This made restricting entry into Estonia for Russian and Belarusian students and others: "Not a punishment, but rather a preventive measure based on the international security situation and the ability of state and society to handle risks," notwithstanding the migratory pressure coming from those countries also, due to the effects of sanctions placed both before and since the invasion started.
At the same time, while many people are silent opponents of the Putin regime in Russia, others are indifferent and still others are tacit supporters of it, Arpo added. "It is often difficult, or even impossible, to distinguish between these [groups]," he said, basing this on a lack of resources and information to adequately monitor an at-risk group, even if the law permitted that and in all democratic states and not just Estonia.
Arpo also identified something of a boy-who-cried-wolf scenario regarding Russia, given the efforts the free world has made, sometimes at its own cost, to accommodate Russia, only for this to have no bearing on that country's stance on Ukraine and its subsequent invasion of the latter.
"Russia's behavior today shows that those [from Russia] who have moved west to study and work have influenced 'blue-eyed' western countries into being more friendly towards Russia than Russia has been friendly towards the West," he added.
Indirect security risks can thus only be prevented by responsible decisions which curb migration flows, he added.
In the case of genuine asylum seekers from Russia, fleeing political persecution: "
These are individual examples which can be identified on a case-by-case basis, which the Estonian state has the resources and legal procedures to deal with."
Conversely, Ukraine must be shown solidarity in every area, Arpo added, while at the same time that has placed Estonia under "unprecedented migratory pressure", with the country's population having grown by 1.7 percent in the space of less than a month, due to arrivals from Ukraine fleeing the war, with further increases likely.
The original statement (in Estonian) is here.
Earlier this month, the University of Tartu ruled that Russian and Belarusian students will not be able to enroll from next academic year, on bachelor's and master's courses. This does not affect those students already enrolled this academic year.
Other universities say they may follow suit.
Editor: Andrew Whyte