Ukraine pushes Europe to consider Russian tourist ban – NBC News


KYIV, Ukraine — Outraged and anguished after six months of war in Ukraine, Europe is wrestling over a question with deep diplomatic and moral implications: whether to ban Russian travelers.

Kyiv’s allies have been aghast at the split-screen juxtaposition of Russian tourists sunning themselves on Mediterranean beaches while many Ukrainians spend some of their summer in bomb shelters, dodging missiles and artillery.

Fueled by a plea from Ukraine’s government earlier this month, the debate over visa bans is raging from Brussels to Washington, underscoring longstanding fractures within the West over how aggressively to confront Russia in the war’s next phase.

At the heart of the moral question hanging over European capitals is the Russian public’s culpability: Whether ordinary citizens, by putting up little visible opposition, are enabling President Vladimir Putin’s war.

Europe’s struggle to answer that question is pitting competing values against each other: pluralism and fairness versus national sovereignty; accountability for a country’s actions versus the moral hazards of “collective punishment.”  

“We are not speaking about punishment, we’re speaking about restrictive measures which are aiming to end the war,” Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu told NBC News via Zoom this week. “The right to enter any particular country is not a human right.”

The decision could have significant economic ramifications for the continent. Russian travelers spent $22.5 billion last year in foreign countries, according to the analytics firm GlobalData, and there were some 13.7 million international departures from Russia. Among the most popular destinations for Russians, the group says: Italy and Cyprus.

Kyiv wants that to change and has called for countries in the European Union and the Group of Seven — a club that includes the United States — to ban Russian travelers.

The issue may come to a head next week at an E.U. foreign ministers meeting in Prague, but not all Western nations are on the same page.

Germany is against a visa ban affecting “ordinary Russians,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz said recently, adding: “This is Putin’s war.” The E.U.’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, told a conference in Spain on Monday that it was “not a good idea” and that “we have to be more selective.” 

This week, the U.S. also came out against a visa ban.

“The U.S. wouldn’t want to close off pathways to refuge and safety for Russia’s dissidents or others who are vulnerable to human rights abuses,” a State Department spokesman said. “It is important to draw a line between the actions of the Russian government and its policies in Ukraine, and the people of Russia.”

Yet, many countries on Moscow’s doorstep have led the charge to stop letting in Russians, in some cases citing security concerns given the ongoing war. Finland plans to slash the number of visas issued to Russians by 90 percent. And Poland has said it supports the E.U. denying Russians the Schengen visas, which allow passport-free travel within 26 European countries.