Kremlin dissidents warn that European travel bans against Russians are actually helping Vladimir Putin
Kremlin critics around the world are mobilizing against moves by some European countries to impose travel bans on Russian citizens, arguing that it will have the opposite effect of increasing pressure on Vladimir Putin to end the war in Ukraine.
Many of Russia’s top public figures, including celebrities, politicians and journalists with anti-war views, have insisted such bans will backfire. “Do they believe that furious Russians left without European visas would grab a pitchfork and attack the Kremlin? No, they won’t,” legendary Russian rock musician Andrew Makarevich said earlier this week.
Many Russians are already suffering from the ban. When Russian media official Igor Zabotin attempted to enter Romania from Ukraine on Tuesday, Ukrainian border guards stamped his passport with the words: “Russian warship, fuck you,” a slogan popularized by Ukrainian servicemen who said the phrase to a Russian military ship near Snake Island in the early days of the war.
In an interview with The Daily Beast, Zabotin, a former digital manager of Moscow time, said he had been in Ukraine since the very first day of the war. “There are not many Russian citizens living in Ukraine, most of us are sitting at home without traveling. I have never heard of other cases like mine, of border guards stamping a passport with this slogan,” Zabotin told The Daily Beast. “But Ukrainian border guards just stamped my passport and Romania wouldn’t let me in.” Romania is among several EU countries that have introduced new restrictions and tightened entry rules for Russian citizens.
When the conflict erupted in 2014, Zabotin protested with Ukrainian flags in Moscow and posted photos on his social media pages. “If it’s a crime to love Ukraine, Borscht and the sea in Odessa, then I’m a criminal,” he wrote on his Facebook page. But his anti-war stance didn’t hold water with guards on both sides of the border – at least not right away: He was first held up in the neutral zone between the countries, “like in the movie Terminal,” he says, “And then turned back. »
“This is not the Russian people’s war.”
Zabotin spent 24 hours at the border, slept in his car, then decided to contact the Romanian authorities directly and ask for help. “I applied for political asylum in Romania, because the only document I have is my spoiled Russian passport – in Russia I risk 7 to 20 years in prison for my pro-Ukrainian and anti-war public position “, Zabotin told The Daily Beast. Friday. “I had to search for my photos during pro-Ukrainian protests which I posted on Facebook in 2014 and presented to the Romanian authorities at the border. They finally let me in.
On August 31, foreign ministers from EU member countries will meet in Prague to discuss a possible outright ban on Russians crossing the bloc. Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas urged earlier this month: “Stop issuing visas to Russians. Visiting Europe is a privilege, not a human right. Around the same time, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said: “It is not right that at the same time that Russia is waging an aggressive and brutal war of aggression in Europe, Russians can lead a normal life , traveling in Europe, being tourists. That’s not true.” Some countries, including Latvia, have completely halted tourism cooperation with Russia; and Estonia stopped admitting Russians with travel visas on Friday.
But Zabotin says this approach is counterproductive: “The idea of locking people up so they can’t see anything outside their bubble is not the development of civilization.”
The son of famous Russian LGBT activist and blogger Karen Shainyan was living in Kyiv when Putin sent his army to Ukraine. Karen was among the first Russians to speak out against the war, which eventually earned her a “foreign agent” designation from Russia. He now lives in exile in Berlin, working as a TV presenter at the OstWest TV channel. “It’s a shame,” that European countries that originally welcomed Russian independent media and opposition activists three months ago are now barring Russians from entering, Karen told The Daily Beast. “Journalists from all independent Russian media, against Dozhd TV, Kholod and Novaya Gazeta, have done nothing wrong in the past three months.”
He continued: “If during the Cold War it was Moscow that closed the Iron Curtain, now it is the West and not the Kremlin that is closing the door on the Russians, as Trump did on the Mexicans and it makes Putin happy.”
Some world leaders agree. “This is not the Russian people’s war. This is Putin’s war and we have to be very clear about that,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said earlier this week, declining to back calls for a ban. European tourist visas for Russians.
Prominent political observer and freelance journalist Olga Bychkova strongly believes that European leaders should not impose collective punishment on Russians. “The Russian authorities crossed the red line a long time ago, they don’t care how many people they throw in jail or how many fighters they use as cannon fodder – all political protests in Russia will end in more repressions, ruined careers and often violence,” Bychkova told The Daily Beast. “But it seems EU countries banning visas for Russians aren’t keen on understanding the 50 shades of gray Russian.”
More than two million Russians own property in the EU, many of whom are rushing to obtain permanent resident status in anticipation of new travel bans. A Russian film producer, Alyona, 40, has owned a house in Spain for seven years, but has only just applied for a residence permit. “Russia at war is not where I want to raise my children,” she told the Daily Beast.
Thousands of Russians who do not support Putin’s assault on Ukraine continue to flee to Israel, Georgia, Armenia, Serbia, Dubai and other EU countries. In recent days, the number of Russians applying for travel visas has increased by 40%, according to Kommersant.
Imprisoned Russian opposition leader Aleksey Navalny has a clear message for the West about who their main targets for sanctions should be – targets that would help divide Russia’s elite, instead of bringing Russians back to life ordinary more difficult.
“I call on voters and lawmakers in the EU, UK, US and Canada to put pressure on [Russia’s] executive and urgently impose massive personal sanctions against Putin’s thieves,” read a statement on Navalny’s Twitter account on Tuesday.