By Rostyslav Averchuk
Lviv, Ukraine, Aug 16 (EFE).- A Schengen Area ban on Russian tourist visas would fuel anti-war sentiment in Russia and mount domestic pressure on president Vladimir Putin, according to Ukrainian activists and politicians lobbying for the measure.
European Union members Finland, Estonia and Poland, all of which border Russia, have already introduced a ban on issuing tourist visas to Russian citizens but others, such as Germany, are so far reluctant to support the move.
Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba last week tweeted: “Russians overwhelmingly support the war on Ukraine. They must be deprived of the right to cross international borders until they learn to respect them.”
Iryna Sushko, the executive director of Ukrainian NGO Europe without barriers tells Efe that a temporary ban on tourist visa issuance is necessary.
“Think of it as another sanction. Short-term visas are often used for business travel. The ban would weaken the Russian economy,” she tells Efe.
Just as important for the Ukrainian activists lobbying for the visa ban is the potential role it would have in turning Russian society from their indifference to Moscow’s war in Ukraine and fueling opposition.
Sushko, just like many other Ukrainians, sees Russians as sharing responsibility for the actions of Putin’s regime in Ukraine. They point out that hundreds of thousands of Russians take part as soldiers, even though not legally obliged to do so, while the majority supports the continuation of the war, according to polls since the start of the invasion.
Journalist Maksym Eristavi wrote on Twitter that he had not seen “so much rage from Russians across the spectrum” so far as “we see in regards to visa ban.”
The criticism of the possible ban from many members of the Russian opposition stands in sharp contrast to their relatively muted reactions to the massacres of Bucha and Mariupol in Ukraine, he added.
Sushko also points to the security rationale behind the ban, especially considering the numerous cases of infiltration by Russia’s security service agents and by organized crime.
The backers of the ban point to several widely publicized cases of public harassment or assault by Russians that were reported by Ukrainian refugees in EU countries. The latest saw a group of Ukrainian women physically assaulted in Zurich and Switzerland on August 14.
Sushko also underlines in comments to Efe that Ukraine has received an EU-candidate country status and was proclaimed as “belonging to the European family” by high-ranking officials and politicians, such as the European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.
She says it should be made clear to Russia that these are not empty words and that Ukraine is now better able to protect itself, which should at least somewhat discourage Russia from harassing its neighbor.
Asked about whether visas could be given out on a case-by-case basis instead, only with stricter control, Sushko explains to Efe that this would be a partial measure and would fail to make a significant impact on Russia’s actions.
Some Russian citizens, especially those in need of shelter and protection, would likely still be exempt from the visa ban, the Ukrainian expert says. EFE