Karoliina Ainge: Russian visa ban would demonstrate Europe's values
Both the war in Ukraine as well as the next bloody conquests of Vladimir Putin's regime can only be stopped by major shifts in Russian society. A ban on tourist visas is just one part of that, but with it, Europe would be demonstrating its values, writes Karoliina Ainge.
The idea proposed by the prime ministers of Estonia and Finland to stop issuing tourist visas to Russians in the EU has garnered a very bitter response from the Kremlin. Even the Russian ambassador in Tallinn took the trouble to call liberal Kaja Kallas a Nazi. We've clearly finally found a sanction that actually frightens Russian powers.
One of the first sanctions to impact all of Russian society was the flight ban to the EU. As a result, however, the primary legal means of entry are now by land. Of EU member states, Russia only shares a border with Estonia, Latvia and Finland (as well as Kaliningrad's borders with Poland and Lithuania). That means that Russians are entering the EU primarily via these three countries. Estonia has always been a border country, but in light of these new sanctions, that has taken on an entirely new meaning.
In Russia, however, they have come up with exciting new ways to travel to Europe despite the air travel ban. Travel agencies in St. Petersburg, for example, are offering travel packages with flights out of Helsinki Airport that include a bus transfer from St. Petersburg to Vantaa. When a Russian citizen enters the EU on a Schengen visa, they are granted the automatic right to travel to all member states. I guess it's much easier to forget what your government is doing in Ukraine in your name while sipping on cocktails on a beach in Cyprus.
Estonia's sanction policy has a clear objective: to influence the behavior of Russia as a whole. Sanctions affecting society at large are also a part of that. Yet another group of anti-sanctions folks have reared their heads in light of Kaja Kallas and Sanna Marin's latest comments, however, who believe that sanctions should be preceded by a sentiment test.
Europe has to face the uncomfortable truths, though. Among the last remaining independent organizations in Russia is the Levada Center, which has repeatedly measured Russians' support of the hostilities in Ukraine. While 74 percent of those polled in April supported the war, by the end of May, that number had increased to 77 percent already. Russian society clearly and decisively support this bloody and aggressive war in Ukraine.
Yes, Vladimir Putin is a dictator. But could he murder and rape in Ukraine without the support of the majority of Russian society? Probably not. And precisely therein lies the key to putting an end to hostilities. Russian society and public opinion have to change, and that change can only come from within Russia. Attempts have been made for 30 years to nudge Russia toward democracy, but our external efforts haven't proven fruitful.
Also gaining traction among opponents of the visa ban is the opinion that it is precisely in Europe that Russian tourists will understand what democracy means and how to implement it at home. But we're only kidding ourselves with such a belief.
The reality is that Ukrainian parents are forced to dig graves in their own backyards for their children who were beaten to death by Russian soldiers. This horror has to stop before we can discuss the democratizing power of the French Riviera.
By allowing the people of Russia to go about their lives as they know them unchecked, we would be betraying all of those brave Ukrainians who are fighting for our freedom, for our future in a peaceful Europe right now. Both the war in Ukraine as well as the next bloody conquests of Vladimir Putin's regime can only be stopped by major shifts in Russian society, and a ban on tourist visas is just one part of that. But with it, Europe would be demonstrating its values.
Europe ignored our warnings about Russia for a long time. Europe ignored Ukraine, when the Ukrainians asked for help. Let's hope that they've since learned from their mistakes and will listen to countries on the front line. It's time for a visa ban.
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Editor: Aili Vahtla