Europeans Debate Barring Russian Tourists Over the Invasion of Ukraine

BRUSSELS – The European Union’s proposal to ban visas for all Russian tourists because of the invasion of Ukraine has sparked a debate in the continent’s capitals about morality, legality, collective guilt. and the use of power.

Currently, some countries, like Estonia, are implementing their own bans, canceling some visas and refusing to allow Russian tourists to enter. Other countries, such as Germany, argue that blanket bans will harm Russians who oppose President Vladimir V. Putin and his war. Others say that the European Union cannot afford to be divided on the issue and needs to come up with a consensus policy.

Further fueling the debate, the Czech government, which holds the current presidency of the European Union, will present its proposal to foreign ministers later this month.

In addition to the legal and ethical issues raised by the proposed ban, proposed by President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine this month, there is a more realistic question: whether it will have the intended effect. , as its proponents say, to bring home the Russian people at the expense of the war started by their autocratic president, Vladimir V. Putin. Or as critics say, it will produce the opposite result by opposing and alienating the Russians, while reinforcing Putin’s claim that the West is trying to destroy Russia.

Benjamin Tallis, a Berlin-based analyst, argues that the bans would not only prevent Russians from vacationing in Europe while their troops kill Ukrainians, but also give Europeans an opportunity to use use their power for moral and strategic purposes.

“The ban is a really strong show of determination,” he said. “The European Union is very conscious of its openness and transformative power, and that closure is a strong sign.”

It would tell Russians, “traveling to Europe is a privilege, and you appreciate it, and we’ll take it away,” he said. “Power begets power, and in general the EU and some countries, especially Germany, are afraid to use the real power they have.”

Lithuania’s foreign minister, Gabrielius Landsbergis, argued that if Russians opposed to the war were forced to stay at home, they could help bring about change. However, polls show that the war is common to most Russianswho usually get their news from state media.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz criticized the proposal on Monday, saying “this is Putin’s war” and “not the Russian people’s”. “It is important for us to understand that a lot of people are fleeing Russia because they disagree with the Russian regime,” he said.

In Russia, too, there has been considerable reaction, with many dissidents opposing the blanket ban.

A ban could face legal challenges. Sarah Ganty, a visiting professor at Central European University in Vienna, argues that a total ban would be illegal under EU law. And Gérard Araud, a former French ambassador to the United States and the United Nations, asserts that “collective sanctions are contrary to international law” and that the ban “has no realistic, achievable goal.”

He added: “The random punishment of innocent individuals is against European values ​​- it’s not because the other side doesn’t respect any values ​​that we should forget our own.”

Some proponents of the ban argue that the European Union has most of the new sanctions to impose on Russia and Putin’s circle. Restrictions on technology and banking, implemented in conjunction with Washington, have hurt the Russian economyand the West is isolating Russia diplomatically.

But critics say the European Union should first enforce existing sanctions. Most importantly, in terms of imports of all Russian energy sources, with the exception of coal, there are many Exceptionhas been delayed or not yet effective, providing billions of dollars to the Kremlin.

After Mr. Zelensky raised the idea of ​​a visa ban, it was picked up by the leaders of countries close to Russia, with the exception of Finland, which was occupied by Moscow after World War II.

The most prominent of them are Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland and Poland, which share a land border with Russia. They had to handle a relatively large number of Russian tourists wanting to enter Europe, because Brussels ban all flights between Russia and the European Union. After joining the European Union, those travelers can fly elsewhere inside Europe’s free travel area, known as the Schengen area.

This proposal has attracted the attention of about 15% of Russians traveling abroad, many of whom also tend to oppose Mr. Tens of thousands of people have fled Russia, since its invasion, knows that criticizing the war can carry years of imprisonment and heavy fines.

Viktor A. Shenderovich, a satirist who left Russia this year, argued that banning Russian tourists would do nothing to weaken Mr. Putin.

“Putin is out of reach, but you can reach a teacher, a doctor, a Putin hostage who was once a hostage of Putin, and make their life even more difficult,” he said. .

He was one of the prominent figures in the Russian Anti-War Committee, who insists a ban would be “in favor of the Kremlin.”

Russian state media responded with ridicule. On Monday’s “60 Minutes,” host Olga Skabeyeva said Europe has moved from trying to isolate Russia to isolating all Russians. She said, “banned supporters” stabbed Russia’s fifth column in the back and said visas to Europe should not be issued even to Russia’s opposition. “

On social media, some Russians say a ban would be immoral, and some say Europeans are living hypocritically, more willing to stop people than gas finance the war.

“You can still be useful to your country somewhere else,” Ivan Pavlov, a human rights lawyer who also left Russia, wrote on Facebook. “Thanks to the internet, Russians abroad have even more opportunities in this field than those who stay.”

But Toomas Hendrik Ilves, former president of Estonia, told the BBC that the visa ban would be “one of the most humane forms of punishment, because it does not affect poor Russians and affects the middle class and the wealthy.”

Radoslaw Sikorski, a former Polish foreign minister and now European lawmaker, argues that any restrictions should be agreed to by Schengen area members, “because the decision of any country affects the every other country.”

But Mr Sikorski believes the ban is a mistake. “The goal is not just for Ukraine to defend itself, but for Russia to transform,” he said, noting the experience of Poles who, through tourism, can compare. Compare life under communism to life in the West.

There are other options, he said, such as stricter vetting procedures for Russians applying for visas, and possibly even requiring applicants to declare that they did not contribute to the war. painting.

In fact, Estonia has canceled many Schengen visas issued to Russians and stopped issuing most new visas. But according to the Schengen regulations, it cannot prevent Russians with visas issued in other Schengen countries from entering Estonia by land.

Latvia and Finland have recently tightened their restrictions, with Finland cutting 90% of the visas they issue to Russians, to just 100 a day. Lithuania and the Czech Republic have suspended visas for most Russians.

For Mr. Zelensky, the issue was clear: Russians, he said, “should live in their own world until they change their philosophy”. Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, laid out the country’s position bluntly. Russian, he speak this month, “must be deprived of the right to cross international borders until they learn to respect them.”

Steven Erlanger reported from Brussels, and Neil MacFarquhar from Istanbul. Alina Lobzina contribution report from Istanbul, Johanna Lemola from Helsinki and Carly Olson from New York.

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