Should the EU ban Russian tourists? This question divided the bloc as EU leaders met in Prague at the end of August to discuss several countries and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky’s call for an EU-wide ban on Russian tourist visas. Western European countries like Germany and France opposed any ban that might punish ordinary Russians and play into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s anti-Western propaganda. Meanwhile, the Baltic states announced that not only would they stop issuing new Russian tourist visas, but they would also refuse to honour Russian visas granted by other Schengen states, spurring uncertainty over the move’s legality.
There are compelling arguments for and against such a ban. On the one hand, the ban would send a strong message to the Russian regime and wealthier Russians who can afford to travel to Europe. According to the EU border control agency Frontex, almost a million Russians have travelled to the EU since the war in Ukraine started, mainly to Finland (333,000), Estonia (234,000), and Lithuania (132,000). On the other hand, such a ban risks targeting people fleeing the regime. At the same time, the proposal triggered debates about controversial categories such as ‘collective responsibility’ and double standards in international relations; in fact, no such ban was imposed against American tourists due to the US wars against Iraq and Afghanistan.
So, is the EU ban on Russian tourists fair and necessary? Nigel Gould-Davies (IISS) and Brad Blitz (UCL) weigh in.
Should the EU ban Russian tourists?
Yes, it should
Nigel Gould-Davies, Senior Fellow for Russia and Eurasia. International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS)
As I wrote in a recent article, the West should impose a tourist visa ban because it’s consistent with the EU’s broader approach to sanctions and responds to the unprecedented security crisis that Russia has unleashed. It’s wrong to portray a visa ban as ‘collective punishment’ of the entire Russian population, and thus as inherently unjust. A visa ban is no more – and no less – ‘collective’ in its effect than any policy towards an entire country, such as economic sanctions. The EU has imposed seven packages of sanctions on Russia with no complaint of ‘collective punishment’.
In fact, the right way to think about a visa ban on Russia is precisely as a sanction. A visa ban would restrict flows of Russian tourists, who enjoy access to sanctioned goods and services, and thus close a sanctions loophole. It would give wealthier Russians – who are most likely to visit Europe and are a potential source of change in Russia – another reason to oppose the war. A visa ban is a security measure too. Some Russian ‘tourists’ – such as GRU officers who poisoned Sergei and Yulia Skripal in 2018 - have long threatened countries that receive them.
We should still let in those who are fleeing the regime, as we did in the Cold War. There will be other exceptions that good policy can craft. The key point is that Russian tourists should not enjoy Europe while their country despoils and threatens it.
No, it shouldn’t
Brad Blitz, Professor of International Politics and Policy. University College London (UCL)
There are two principal reasons why we should oppose a visa ban.
First, we need to protect those who may need to flee. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the number of Russians applying for asylum in the EU doubled from 670 in February to 1,335 in March. This figure continues to climb. A travel ban could shut the door to the very Russians who are opposed to the war and Putin’s regime and who rely on tourist visas to get out. This includes critics, such as journalists, teachers, and young people. In addition, religious and sexual minorities have been persecuted and may also need to reach places of safety.
Second, an outright ban on Russian visitors would silence possible dissent and undermine the potential for positive engagement between Russians and Europeans which could lead to progressive change. If the EU closes the door, there will be fewer opportunities for Russian academics, artists, teachers, journalists, and former NGO workers who have been at the vanguard of democracy over the past 30 years. We need to find a way to give oxygen to the remaining liberal voices. If we don't, we risk giving more power to Putin and his authoritarian agenda. Kremlin propagandists would further the west and cry victim. They would claim the world is against Russia, which Putin argues is fighting off Nazis. But this is war is not against the Russian people, it is about defending Ukraine from aggression. That message must not get lost.
Ending Russian Imperialism
Valery Dzutsati, Kansas University
It is hard to predict the outcome of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, though we can be reasonably certain about two things concerning this crisis. First, it will eventually end. Second, Russia will continue posing a significant security threat to Europe regardless of how the war ends. If Russia takes over Ukraine, the Kremlin’s expansionist foreign policy is very likely to engulf other neighboring countries. If, on the other hand, Ukraine manages to drive Russia out from its territory, resentment and revisionism will sweep the Russian elites and influence the Kremlin’s foreign policy in the future. Historical examples of Russian behavior after victories and defeats abound to support this claim.