Russian officer who fled to Kazakhstan could be deported, family says

By Olzhas Auyezov

ALMATY (Reuters) - A Russian military officer who illegally crossed into Kazakhstan because he objected to the invasion of Ukraine has been detained there, his family said, leaving Kazakh authorities with a diplomatic dilemma over whether to hand him over to Moscow.

Hundreds of thousands of Russians fled to Kazakhstan and other neighbouring states after the war started. Many of them were civilians, crossing legally as they sought to avoid a Russian mobilisation order.

As an army officer, Major Zhilin, 36, was barred from leaving Russia and he illegally crossed into Kazakhstan in September when it became clear he could be sent to Ukraine, his wife Yekaterina told Reuters.

She travelled to Kazakhstan legally with their two children.

"As someone who disagrees with the actions of the Russian leadership with regards to Ukraine, I could not legally leave Russia even if I had resigned from military service because I am barred from doing so as a person who has access to classified information," she quoted him as saying.

A Kazakh police document, which she showed to Reuters, stated he had been detained on suspicion of violating Russian law. It cited articles of the Russian criminal code on desertion and illegally crossing Russia's border.

Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic which has denied his request for refugee status, does not support Russia's decision to invade Ukraine but cannot afford to alienate its giant neighbour, a major trading partner.

Zhilin, a communications specialist, was detained and tried for illegal entry by a court in the eastern Kazakh city of Semey. He was handed a six-month suspended sentence and ordered to be deported to Russia.

To avoid deportation, Zhilin made an unsuccessful bid to get an appointment at the Canadian consulate in Astana and then tried to fly to Armenia but was detained at the airport. He is now waiting on a court decision about whether to extend his detention.

Kazakhstan's interior ministry had no immediate comment on the case. Zhilin's lawyer declined to comment on the telephone.

The Russian authorities did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment on the case.

(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Edmund Blair)