Because of the Ukraine invasion, a proposal that the European Union ban visas for all Russian tourists has sparked a debate in the continent’s capitals about morality, legality, collective guilt, and the use of power.
Some countries, such as Estonia, have already implemented their own bans, canceling some visas and refusing to allow Russian tourists to enter. Other countries, such as Germany, argue that imposing a blanket ban will harm Russians who oppose President Vladimir V. Putin and his war. Others argue that the European Union cannot afford to be divided on the issue and must develop a consensus policy.
To add fuel to the fire, the Czech government, which currently holds the EU presidency, will discuss the proposal with foreign ministers at the end of this month.
Beyond the legal and moral issues raised by the proposed ban, proposed this month by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, there is a more practical question: will it have the intended effect, as its supporters claim, of bringing home to the Russian people the costs of the war started by their autocratic president, Vladimir V. Putin? Or, as critics argue, would it have the opposite effect, antagonizing and alienating Russians while reinforcing Mr. Putin’s claims that the West is attempting to destroy Russia?
According to Benjamin Tallis, a Berlin-based analyst, bans would not only prevent Russians from taking European vacations while their troops killed Ukrainians, but would also allow Europeans to use their power for moral and strategic purposes.
Gabrielius Landsbergis, Lithuania’s foreign minister, has argued that if Russians who oppose the war were forced to stay home, they could help bring about change. Despite this, polls show that most Russians, who generally get their news from state media, support the war.
A ban could be challenged in court. A comprehensive ban, according to Sarah Ganty, a visiting professor at Central European University in Vienna, would be illegal under EU law. Former French ambassador to the US and the UN, Gérard Araud, stated that “collective punishment is contrary to international law” and that a ban “has no realistic, achievable goal.”
Some supporters of a ban argue that the European Union has run out of new sanctions to levy on Russia and Mr. Putin’s circle. Restrictions on technology and banking imposed in collaboration with Washington have severely harmed Russia’s economy, and the West is diplomatically isolating Russia.
However, some critics argue that the European Union should first enforce existing sanctions. The most important, on the importation of all Russian energy sources except coal, has many exceptions, has been delayed, or has not yet come into force, providing the Kremlin with billions of dollars.
Following Mr. Zelensky’s suggestion, leaders of countries bordering Russia, with the exception of Finland, were occupied by Moscow after World War II.
Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland, and Poland are the most prominent, as they share land borders with Russia. Because Brussels banned all flights between Russia and the European Union, they have had to deal with a relatively large influx of Russian tourists attempting to enter Europe. Once inside the European Union, tourists can fly anywhere within Europe’s free travel zone, known as the Schengen zone.
The proposal has piqued the interest of the estimated 15% of Russians who travel abroad, many of whom also oppose Mr. Putin. Since the invasion, tens of thousands of people have fled Russia, knowing that criticizing the war could result in years in prison and heavy fines.
Russian state media has mocked the situation. On Monday’s “60 Minutes,” presenter Olga Skabeyeva stated that Europe had shifted from attempting to isolate Russia to isolating all Russians. She claimed that supporters of the ban “stabbed the Russian fifth column in the back and said that visas for Europe should not be issued even to the Russian opposition.”
Former Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, however, told the BBC that a visa ban would be “one of the most humane kinds of sanctions, because it does not affect poor Russians, but rather the middle and upper classes.”
Radoslaw Sikorski, a former Polish foreign minister and now a European lawmaker, argued any restrictions should be agreed upon by Schengen-area members, “because the decisions of any one country affect everybody else.”