April 1, 2023

Estonia, which shares a nearly 200-mile border with Russia, has been pleading with other EU countries to follow suit by halting tourist visas for Russians and invalidating existing ones, a move that took effect last week. Visa restrictions and other sanctions should aim to ensure Russian society feels the effects of the war, Reinslau said.

“Of course, they are not legally responsible,” he said. “But Russian society has a special moral responsibility to legitimize the genocide taking place in central Europe by their persistent negative attitudes.”

The visa ban debate is particularly felt in countries bordering Russia. Shortly after the invasion, the European Union banned flights from Russia, forcing Russians seeking to fly to Europe to cross land borders to countries such as Finland and then take flights elsewhere.

Russians who use Helsinki as a transit hub shared photos on Instagram, with some joking about the number of fellow Russians waiting for their flight from the Finnish capital, while others reassured their followers that they had no experience on the trip. “Russophobia”.

The Kremlin has called any suggestion of a Russian visa ban “irrational thinking” from a hostile country, and spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “These measures don’t taste good, to say the least.”

Critics who criticize Russians being punished for their government’s actions argue that it is especially unfair to impose collective responsibility on the public in a country that lacks free and fair elections to choose leaders.

It is also notoriously difficult to accurately gauge public opinion in Russia, which lacks freedom of speech protections, making it illegal to discredit the Russian military’s version of events.

A recent poll by the Levada Center, a non-governmental research organization in Moscow, found domestic support for what Putin described as merely a “special military operation” was steady at around 76 percent, with older Russians more likely than younger ones to support it.

“You saw this very strong view at the beginning of the war that this was Putin’s war, this was not the Russian people,” said Heather Conley, a European academic and president of the U.S.-based German Marshall Fund, a nonpartisan Policy Organization. “But increasingly, the separation of the Russian people and the Russian government is indeed increasingly difficult to discern.”

In the early days of the invasion, anti-war protests took place in dozens of Russian cities and thousands of people were arrested, but these demonstrations have mostly subsided.

Andrei Kolesnikov, a Moscow-based senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a Russia expert, said the lack of clear public opposition to the war in Russia should not be interpreted as general support.

“Political opponents are either threatened with criminal prosecution or already in jail. To take to the streets is to arrest,” he said. “People who speak out in public have no idea how it’s going to end.”

Some countries have advocated a middle ground, imposing limited visa restrictions while offering exemptions for dissidents and for humanitarian reasons such as family funerals.

Michael McFaul, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, has proposed requiring all Russians seeking visas to pay a small additional fee that would help finance Ukraine’s rebuilding of the devastation caused by the Russian military.

“You’re giving people the option to travel, but you’re forcing them to pay for Ukraine’s reconstruction,” said McFaul, who is now director of the Freemans Polly Institute for International Studies at Stanford University. “If they don’t want to, they can vacation in Belarus. They don’t have to vacation in Greece.”

Bianca Britton and Dylan butts contributed.

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