On Monday, August 15th, at the Nordic Summit in Oslo, Norway, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced that Germany would not support several fellow European countries that have called for a European Union (EU)-wide move to prohibit issuing tourist visas to Russian citizens. The debate over issuing or restricting EU visa bans for Russian citizens in Europe remains unresolved between EU leaders. In the past week, Lithuania and Estonia, the Baltic EU member states who border Russia, suspended tourist visas to Russians while Finland and Denmark, Scandinavian EU members, have expressed support for a visa ban and want a unified EU decision. The EU nations that are in support of such a ban argue that Russian citizens should not be able to enjoy vacations in Europe while Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin wage an illegal war on Ukraine.
At Monday’s summit in Oslo, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin claimed that she believed it was not right that “while Russia is waging an aggressive, brutal war of aggression in Europe, Russians can live a normal life, travel in Europe, and be tourists.” In a recent interview, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy voiced his support for EU member states denying all Russian tourists access to the bloc as punishment for the Kremlin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. “The most important sanctions are to close the borders because the Russians are taking away someone else’s land. Russians should live in their own world until they change their philosophy,” said Zelenskyy.
Back in March 2022, the EU had banned every Russian aircraft from operating in its airspace; however, Russians could still travel to Estonia and Finland by land and reach European destinations by plane from there. Now, visas issued in Europe’s travel zone, known as the “Schengen area,” can be used within the zone’s 26 countries, which include 22 EU member states in addition to Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland. Normally, people and goods are able to travel freely between these countries without going through border patrol.
Chancellor Scholz argues that Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine is his own war and not the war of the Russian people and that it is extremely important for the EU to make this clear distinction. Furthermore, he adds that an all-out EU ban on tourist visas for Russians neglects those Russian civilians who disagree with the Kremlin’s actions and are seeking to escape Putin’s regime and obtain freedom in the EU.
At a press conference at the Oslo summit, Scholz stated, “It is important to us to understand that there are a lot of people fleeing from Russia because they are disagreeing with the Russian regime. All the decisions we make [within the EU] should not make it more complicated to go for freedom, to leave the country.”
Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has not only had devastating impacts on the people of Ukraine and the country as a whole, but it has also accounted for the unwarranted rise of xenophobia and anti-Russian bigotry across social media platforms and now in EU legislation. Let it be clear that Putin’s actions have not obtained the support of the entire Russian population, and Putin himself is not a democratically elected head of state who represents the Russian people. There have likely not been elections in Russia in the last two decades that would qualify as free and fair by Western democratic standards. Furthermore, Putin survives as the only unifying figure in Russian politics because he prevents competitors from challenging his rule through ever-escalating repression, imprisonment, or murder.
Putin’s totalitarian methods of rule have placed the Russian people under an authoritarian regime that represses all their freedoms including freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. Despite their lack of freedoms and the dangers they face for defying Putin’s rule, Russian civilians have stepped out into the streets to protest the war on Ukraine. OVD-Info, a human rights group, counted more than 16,000 detentions of anti-war protesters in Russia since the February 2022 invasion.
Let the hypocrisy also be seen through an EU decision to ban Russian tourists for the actions of a leader and a government they have no voice in electing. Were American citizens ever banned from traveling internationally when the Bush administration waged an illegal invasion of Iraq and murdered millions of innocent civilians? Have Israeli citizens been banned from traveling to the West while their government continuously violates international law and continues to colonize Palestinian territories and ethnically cleanse the land’s indigenous population? The answer to both those questions is a definite no. There cannot be a picking and choosing of when civilians are punished on behalf of their government and when they are not. If the actions of a corrupt government have not represented the sentiments of the people in the past, why is it now the case for Russian civilians?
The West continues to misguide their anger and frustration with Putin toward the Russian people as a whole, utterly neglecting the fact that Russia is a large, diverse country with a multitude of opinions that do not align with Putin’s. Russian bigotry has been normalized to a dangerous extent where people can post graphics on social media platforms, for example, that depict the average Russian as a sub-human, savage in comparison to an average “civilized” Westerner. An all-out EU ban on issuing tourist visas to Russian civilians utterly neglects the dissidents who are seeking to escape the Putin regime and further contributes to the xenophobia Russians are enduring. If the EU has any intention to end Russia’s war on Ukraine, its efforts have to go beyond implementing useless, xenophobic legislation that attack innocent Russian citizens, and begin targeting Putin himself if any progress is to be made.
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