Analysis: Europe can’t decide to punish ordinary Russians for Putin’s war

Currently, 1,000 Russians can apply for Finnish visas each day, but from September 1 that number will drop to 500. Jussi Tanner, director general of consular services at Finland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told CNN that the maximum is 20% of those slots. Tourist visas will be allocated, meaning no more than 100 tourist visas will be available per day.

The move comes after Estonia, another European Union country bordering Russia, banned Russians who already have visas from entering the country. According to Reuters, it is 50,000 people.

The Czech Republic and Latvia have also supported a visa ban and taken steps to restrict Russians from traveling to the EU.

The proposal was first floated by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who wants to prevent Russians from entering the bloc, where they can travel freely for 90 days in the Schengen area, the EU’s common travel zone.

Not everyone agrees. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz says that while approving those in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle is important, Europeans “need to understand that there are a lot of people fleeing Russia because they don’t agree with the Russian regime.”

A senior German diplomat told CNN that Scholz’s argument was not based on fact, saying, “Anyone can apply for a humanitarian visa.” Diplomats believe Scholz is mostly trying to “balance his own party, which is divided between those who want dialogue with Russia and those who want to appear tougher.”

Advocates of limiting Russian visas believe the argument is clear enough.

Former Finnish Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb, who has previously advocated for visa liberalization with Russia, told CNN: “It’s a sad state of affairs, but the price of war has to be felt by Russian citizens.”

“The only way to change the hearts and minds of the Russian people to understand what Putin is doing is a clear violation of international law. That means a complete visa ban on Russians,” he said.

“First and foremost, this is a security issue,” says Rasa Zukneviciene, a former Lithuanian defense minister and current member of the European Parliament.

“Russian citizens travel to the EU mainly through Finland and Estonia. The countries’ official services are under enormous pressure. Russia is controlled by KGB legacy structures, which exploit the openness of the Schengen countries for various operations,” Juknevičienė told CNN.

European leaders are unlikely to reach full agreement on the issue. While the EU has been largely united since the beginning of the war and has agreed to impose serious economic sanctions on Russia, geographical reality complicates any consensus among the 27 countries, which have different economic and political priorities.

Countries to the west and south of the EU, somewhat shielded from Kremlin aggression due to sheer remoteness, are quick to remind hawks that Russia is a large part of Europe’s vast territory.

French President Emmanuel Macron (R) meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) in Moscow on February 7, 2022.

So ignoring Russia is not the most difficult, but perhaps not particularly productive. After the war ended, European economies wanted to restore relations with Russia. Not only would this be beneficial to those countries, but it could prove valuable in the post-conflict propaganda battle to convince average Russians of the benefits of European values.

Strategically, most serious people agree that any postwar European security plans must include Russia, and that Moscow would do well to proactively work with its European neighbors.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are countries like Poland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia that have already suffered enough at the hands of the repressive dictatorships of the Soviet Union and more recently at the hands of Russia. Putin’s Kremlin threat.

Dealing with Putin and Russia are very complex competing factors.

Will the EU work with Putin if he remains in power after the war? If not, how different would a successor regime have to be from Putin’s to satisfy the bloc? What should be included in the hypothetical agreement to reassure various European leaders that Russia will not provoke further conflict? What might the EU be willing to accept to broker peace? In all this it is worth remembering that Ukraine is now a candidate for EU membership.

All these big questions create smaller questions, including what to do when visas conflict. And the longer the war continues, as the West’s options for sanctions and retaliation become more limited, the more these questions will emerge.

The harsh reality is that these small questions, headaches in themselves, must be balanced against the long-term outcome, in the best-case scenario of this bleak period. And the blunt truth is that one thing will never change: Europe cannot ignore Russia.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Rasa Zukneviciene is a Lithuanian politician.

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