Estonia, which shares a nearly 200-mile border with Russia, has pleaded with other EU countries to follow its lead by stopping issuing tourist visas for Russians and invalidating existing visas, a move that came into effect last week. Reinslau said the goal of visa restrictions and other sanctions should be to ensure that Russian society feels the impact of the war.
“Of course they bear no legal responsibility,” he said. “But Russian society bears a special moral responsibility that its continued passivity legitimizes the genocide that is happening in the middle of Europe.”
The countries bordering Russia feel the debate over the visa ban particularly acutely. Shortly after the invasion, the EU banned flights from Russia, forcing Russians seeking to travel to Europe to cross land borders to countries like Finland and then fly elsewhere.
Russians who used Helsinki as a transit hub shared pics on instagramsome joking about the large number of fellow Russians waiting for flights from the Finnish capital, others assuring their followers that they had not experienced “Russophobia” during their travels.
The Kremlin has called any suggestion of a Russian visa ban an “irrational thought” by hostile countries, with spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying: “The smell of such initiatives is not very good, it’s the least we can say”.
Critics of punishing Russians for their government’s actions say imposing collective accountability on the public is particularly unfair in a country that lacks free and fair elections to choose its leaders.
It’s also notoriously difficult to accurately gauge public opinion in Russia, which lacks protections for free speech and has made it illegal to discredit the Russian military’s version of events.
A recent poll by the Levada Center, a non-governmental research group based in Moscow, found that national support for what Putin describes only as a “special military operation” has remained stable at around 76%, with older Russians more likely than younger people to support it. .
“You saw at the beginning of the war this very strong view that this is Putin’s war, it’s not the Russian people,” said Heather Conley, Europe specialist and chair of the German Marshall Fund of United States, a nonpartisan political organization. . “But more and more, this separation of the Russian people and the Russian government is really getting harder to discern.”
In the early days of the invasion, there were anti-war demonstrations in dozens of Russian cities that have seen thousands arrested, but those protests have mostly died down.
Andrei Kolesnikov, a Moscow-based senior fellow and Russia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said Russia’s lack of visible public opposition to the war should not be interpreted as universal support.
“The political opposition has left under threat of criminal prosecution or is already in prison. Going out on the street is an arrest,” he said. “Whoever speaks in the public space does not know how it will end.”
Some countries have argued for a middle ground that would impose limited visa restrictions while providing exemptions for political dissidents and for humanitarian reasons, such as family funerals.
Former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul proposed requiring all Russians seeking visas to pay a small additional fee that would help fund reconstruction in Ukraine from the damage inflicted by the Russian military.
“You give people the choice to travel, but you make them pay for Ukrainian reconstruction,” said McFaul, now director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University. “If they don’t want to, they can spend their holidays in Belarus. They don’t need a vacation in Greece.
Bianca Breton and Dylan Butts contributed.