KYIV, Ukraine – Outraged and miserable after six months war in UkraineEurope is grappling with a question with deep diplomatic and moral implications: whether Russian tourists should be banned.
Kyiv’s allies were in awe of the side-by-side split screens of Russian tourists sunbathing Mediterranean Beach while many Ukrainians spend part of their summers in bomb shelters, Dodge missiles and cannons.
Fueled by pleas from the Ukrainian government earlier this month, the debate over the visa ban is raging from Brussels to Washington, underscoring long-standing rifts within the West over how aggression against Russia in the next phase of the war.
At the heart of the moral question that hangs over European capitals is the guilt of the Russian public: Are ordinary citizens, by making less visible objections, facilitating give War of President Vladimir Putin.
Europe’s struggle to answer that question is undermining competing values: pluralism and equity versus national sovereignty; accountability for a nation’s actions versus the moral hazard of “collective punishment.”
“We’re not talking about sanctions, we’re talking about restrictive measures aimed at ending war,” Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu told NBC News via Zoom this week. “The right to enter any particular country is not a human right.”
This decision could have significant economic implications for the continent. According to analytics firm GlobalData, Russian tourists spent $22.5 billion last year and had about 13.7 million international departures from Russia. Among the most popular destinations for Russians, the group said: Italy and Cyprus.
Kyiv wants that to change and has called on countries in the European Union and Group of seven – a club that includes the United States – to ban Russian tourists.
The issue could become acute next week at the EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Prague, but not all Western nations are on the same page.
Germany against a visa ban affecting “ordinary Russians”, Prime Minister Olaf Scholz said recently, adding: “This is Putin’s war.” EU foreign policy director, Josep Borrelltold a conference in Spain on Monday that it was “not a good idea” and that “we have to be more selective.”
This week, the United States also raised objections to the visa ban.
“The United States would not want to close the roads of refuge and safety to Russian dissidents or others vulnerable to human rights abuses,” a State Department spokesman said. “It is important to draw a line between the actions of the Russian government and its policies in Ukraine, and the Russian people.”
However, many countries on Moscow’s doorstep have been forced to stop allowing Russian access, in some cases citing security concerns due to the ongoing war. Finland plans to cut the number of visas issued to Russians by 90%. And Poland said it supported the EU’s refusal to issue Schengen visas to Russians, allowing passport-free travel within 26 European countries.
Estonia, which shares a nearly 200-mile border with Russia, has begged other EU countries to follow its lead by stopping issuing tourist visas to Russians and canceling existing ones. The move went into effect last week. Reinslau said the goal of visa restrictions and other sanctions should be to ensure Russian society feels the effects of the war.
“Of course, they are not liable,” he said. “But Russian society bears a special moral responsibility that its continued passivity legitimized the genocide that occurred in the middle of Europe.”
Countries bordering Russia are finding the debate over the visa ban particularly intense. Not long after the invasion, the EU banned flights from Russia, forcing Russians trying to fly to Europe to cross land borders to countries like Finland, then catch flights elsewhere.
Russians who used Helsinki as a transit hub shared Instagram picturessome joked about the sheer number of Russians waiting for flights from the Finnish capital, while others assured their followers that they had not experienced “fear of Russia” during the journey. mine.
The Kremlin called any proposal to ban Russian visas “absurd thinking” from hostile countries, with spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying: “The smell of such initiatives is not very good, at least. must say that”.
Critics of punishing Russians for their government’s actions argue that imposing collective responsibility on the public is particularly unfair in a country that lacks free and fair elections to choose from. its leaders.
It is also notoriously difficult to accurately gauge public opinion in Russia, which lacks protections for free speech and makes it illegal to discredit the Russian military’s version of events.
A recent poll from the Levada Center, a Moscow-based NGO, shows that domestic support for what Putin only describes as “special military operations” remains steady. at around 76%, with Russians older than younger supporting it. .
Heather Conley, a Europe scholar and president of the Marshall Fund of the United States, a nonpartisan policy organization, said: “You saw at the beginning of the war, the view was very strong that this was war. of Putin, these are not the Russian people. . “But more and more, the separation between the Russian people and the Russian government actually becomes harder and harder to distinguish.”
In the first days of the invasion, there anti-war protest In dozens of Russian cities saw thousands of arrests, but those protests have mostly dissipated.
Andrei Kolesnikov, a senior fellow based in Moscow and a Russia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the lack of clear, public opposition in Russia to the war should not be construed as disapproval. general support.
“The political opposition is either under threat of criminal prosecution or already in jail. Go out and get caught,” he said. “People who speak out in public don’t know how it will end.”
Some countries have advocated a centrist stance that would impose restrictive visa restrictions while fixing exemptions for dissidents and humanitarian reasons, such as family funeral.
Former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul proposed requiring all Russians seeking visas to pay a small additional fee to help finance reconstruction in Ukraine in the face of damage caused by the Russian military.
“You’re giving people the option to travel, but you’re forcing them to pay for the reconstruction of Ukraine,” said McFaul, now director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University. “If they don’t want to, they can go on vacation to Belarus. They don’t have to go on vacation to Greece.”