Ukraine War, August 21, 2022: Should European nations ban visas for Russians?Remembering the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia on August 20, 1968

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To see a list of previous articles, enter “Ukraine” in the Search Box on the upper right, on The Trenchant Observer web site, and you will see a list in chronological order.

Dispatches

1) Mikhail Zygar, “Rache führt uns ins Mittelalter; Europäische Politiker diskutieren über Einreiseverbote für Russen. Ein solcher Schritt würde den Ukrainekrieg nicht schneller beenden – sondern nur Putin stärken,” Der Spiegel, den 21. August 2022 (16.03 Uhr);

2) Mikhail Zygar, “Revenge takes us to the Middle Ages; European politicians discuss entry bans for Russians. Such a step would not end the Ukraine war faster – but only strengthen Putin. Der Spiegel, August 21, 2022 (4:03 p.m.);

3) “Reflections on Czechoslovakia (1968) and Ukraine (2022): August 20, 1968 — ‘Dubček, Svoboda!’” The Trenchant Observer, January 26, 2022.

Analysis

On August 20, 1968, Soviet tanks entered Prague and ended the “Prague Spring” with brute military force.

It is appropriate to remember that day, and what it tells us about Soviet and Russian colonialism. See The Trenchant Observer article above (3).

***

On August 13, 2022, a friend asked me what I thought about proposals in Europe to ban the issuance of visas to Russians.

Many Russian tourists have been evading the EU sanction of an air-travel ban by traveling by car or train to countries like Estonia. There they catch a flight to their tourist destination within the Schengen area, in which 26 European countries have abolished all passport and other border controls at their mutual borders.

My reply to my friend follows:

You raise an interesting issue about banning Russian travelers in Sweden and Estonia, and I guess the whole EU is considering such a travel ban.

We don’t want to block free travel by dissidents, and in general favor freedom of movement and the Helsinki Final Act.

Here the problem seems to be evasion by Russian tourists of the sanctions ban on air travel.

What are possible solutions?

1. Perhaps countries like Estonia could issue visas requiring, e.g., two weeks presence in Estonia before any onward travel.

Enforcement in the Schengen area would obviously be a problem, but violation of the terms of the visa could lead to its revocation or a refusal to issue future visas to the violator.

2. A second possibility would be for countries like Estonia and those of the tourists’ destinations to issue “temporary restrictions” as they are allowed to do under Schengen. This could affect things like airline bookings and hotel reservations at tourist destinations.

Whether such temporary restrictions could be made mandatory by the EU as a measure to prevent evasion of the air travel ban would be an open question.

On the whole, I think a general travel ban on Russians would be a bad idea, both as a precedent and because it would hurt opponents of Putin and the war.

And obviously it would be likely to provoke a travel ban by Russia.

I think it better to allow individuals to go back and forth while trying to find a more targeted solution to evasion of the EU air travel ban by Russian tourists.

Mikhail Zygar, a Russian journalist who has fled Russia and now resides in Berlin, provides a powerful argument against such a general travel ban, from the point of view of a Russian dissident.

He writes,

The whole world has suddenly enjoyed taking revenge. Politicians in Europe have begun to seriously discuss a visa ban for Russian citizens. Unlike most other sanctions, this measure is by no means a means of combating the Russian regime. It is just a retaliation – an opportunity to punish the Russians for waging war. Of course, this will not make a victory of Ukraine more likely. On the contrary, it will help Putin consolidate his power.

The best solution to the problem of Russian tourists on holiday wandering around Vienna or Rome as if no war were hoing on, with Ukrainian refugees looking on, would be to avoid any thought of revenge and to focus on narrowly-targeted measures, such as those suggested aove, to deal with the specific problem at hand.

Above all, hatred and punishment of Russians because of their nationality must be avoided. This only plays into Putin’s propaganda narrative that the West is anti-Russian, when in fact the countries of the West merely oppose Russian barbarism and are simply defending our civilization, including the U.N. Charter and international law.

Vengeance is not a promising path to follow. On the contrary, ties of friendship with Russians who do not explicitly support Putin’s war should be encouraged, as should the fostering of cultural ties with Russian artists and cultural institutions which are not guilty of supporting Putin’s war.

The great works of Russian literature should be honored, and there should be no talk of banning them. Russian should continue to be taught as one of the world’s most important languages.

We must all hope and believe that one day the better angels of the Russian people, the better angels of their nature as Abraham Lincoln would say, will reassert themselves and that Russia will rejoin the ranks of the civilized nations of the world.

In the meantime,we must take care not to kill the roots and new shoots of such a future Russian renaissance.

The Trenchant Observer

***

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