Vacations and foreign travel are luxuries, and preventing Russian citizens from going abroad would force them to think twice about their government’s actions, Mark Temnycky writes.
After scaling a mountain on a humid summer day, my cousins and I reached the top of St John Fortress in Kotor. We took a moment to enjoy the view from the summit, nearly 300 metres above the Montenegrin coastal town.
After catching our breath, we reached into our bag and pulled out a Ukrainian flag. A customary tradition, we always take a photo with it during our annual trips.
We took a second to pose with our flag at the fortress and requested a neighbouring tourist to take our picture.
But this encounter was different. As we stood for a photo, another group of tourists gave us unpleasant looks.
“Ukrainians,” one of them snarled in Russian, eyes cold with contempt.
We quickly finished taking our photo, packed our flag, and descended down the fortress. As our group continued on our walk, the discomfort among us became palpable as we came across additional Russian tourists who gave us similar stares.
Is everyone in Russia truly brainwashed?
Unfortunately, this was not an isolated incident. Following this encounter in Montenegro, I experienced similar events while in Cyprus and Greece.
During my visits, Russian tourists did not shy away from glaring at me or making judgmental comments about my being Ukrainian.
This is Russia today. Over the past 19 months, many have mislabeled the Russian invasion of Ukraine as “Putin’s war,” blaming the current circumstances on the Russian president.
But the hatred toward Ukrainians goes far beyond Vladimir Putin. According to recent polling data, most Russians support their country’s aggression against Ukraine.
Survey participants also stated that they want the war to continue. These are not opinions or expressions of a freedom-loving people.
Some might argue that Russian citizens are heavily influenced by Russian propaganda. After all, the Kremlin controls the media and survey centres within Russia.
But with a country of 143 million, it is hard to believe every single citizen has been brainwashed.
While Ukraine is burning, Russians head to the beach
Russia’s war has been devastating. Over the past 19 months, tens of thousands of Ukrainians have perished. Numerous cities and villages have been ravaged.
Ukraine’s agriculture has been destroyed, and some experts believe that it will take over €1 trillion to rebuild the country.
To make matters worse, one-fourth of Ukraine’s population is displaced. The United Nations estimates that “90% of the refugees from Ukraine are women and children”.
In addition, Ukraine has enforced martial law since the war began in February 2022, meaning men aged 18 to 60 cannot leave the country.
In short, these Ukrainian men, women, and children do not have an opportunity to go on vacation or extravagant adventures this summer.
Instead, they constantly live in fear, trying to avoid the dangers of the ongoing Russian invasion.
While Ukrainians seek safety from these attacks, citizens from the aggressor state have been living in peace. According to a France24 report, 22.5 million Russian citizens travelled abroad in 2022, an increase of 3.4 million from 2021.
As these tourists visited beach towns and major cities, this came at the expense of millions of Ukrainians who were constantly hiding in bunkers and shelters, ensuring they were away from Russian missile strikes.
There is something morally wrong with this. Why should Russian tourists have the privilege of going on their lavish European adventures while they support the atrocities committed by their country in Ukraine?
Vacations are a luxury, after all
To be fair, the international community has already implemented harsh sanctions on Russia, such as the removal of several Russian banks from SWIFT, the expulsion of the Russian Federation from international groups such as the G20 and the Council of Europe, and a ban on Russian sports teams from international competitions. But more can be done.
Imposing restrictions on Russian tourist visas would send a powerful message to the Russians.
To date, millions of citizens have been able to travel freely, presenting a false impression that the situation in Ukraine is normal.
Instead, Russians should be punished for the actions of their government.
Vacations and foreign travel are luxuries, and preventing Russian citizens from going abroad would force them to think twice about their government’s actions.
The EU remains divided on welcoming Russian guests
To some degree, the European Union has started to enforce restrictions. Countries such as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland, and Poland have stated that they would “bar entry to Russians holding Schengen Area tourist visas”.
These countries believe that Russians should not be permitted to travel to Europe while the unnecessary and illegal invasion continues.
They also believe that additional pressures should be imposed on the Russian Federation to end the war.
But there is division within the EU. While those in Eastern Europe support stiffer penalties, the countries of Western Europe have a different attitude.
According to a Euronews report, Germany, France, Portugal, and Spain believe Europe should not cut itself entirely from Russia.
These opinions are ill-advised and only signal to the Russians that their government can continue to do as it pleases without harsher penalties.
There is also the issue of money laundering
Aside from the moral dilemma, banning Russian tourist visas would also combat the influx of dirty money in major European capitals.
For years, European officials called on stricter laws to scrutinize Russian money laundering, tracing Russian money, and even implementing a task force to examine Russia’s financial influence in Europe.
These efforts have been exhausted, and they are both slow and time-consuming.
Yet, implementing a visa policy that would restrict or ban Russian tourists in Europe would dramatically reduce the flow of Russian cash.
In addition, European governments should continue to freeze and seize the assets of Russian politicians and oligarchs.
This would help Europe in its fight against corruption, and it would lead to the continuation of anti-corruption efforts in major European capitals as they eliminate the use of Russian money.
It's time to show that actions have consequences
The Russian Federation’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine has been deadly and catastrophic.
But as Ukrainians continue to suffer, Russian citizens have reaped the benefits of European travel. It is time for the EU to take a harsher stance on Russian tourist visas.
Russia should be penalised to the fullest extent for its war in Ukraine, and these punishments should not be eased until the war has ended, Ukraine’s 1991 borders are restored, and the country is rebuilt.
Only then will the Russians learn from the consequences of their actions.
Vacations and international travel are a luxury, not a right. It is time to teach the Russians this.
Mark Temnycky is an accredited freelance journalist covering Eurasian affairs and a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center.
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