Dmytro Kuleba is Ukraine’s foreign minister.
Since Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy suggested banning Russian tourists from traveling to Europe and beyond about a week ago, the idea has gained momentum within the European Union, while also causing heated debate.
Simply put, Russian tourists, businesspeople and students should be banned from traveling to the EU and G7 countries. This is an appropriate response to Russia’s genocidal war of aggression.
“But why sanction ordinary Russians?” some ask. Because an overwhelming majority of them support this war, cheer the murder of Ukrainian civilians, laud missile strikes on Ukrainian cities and deny Russian war crimes.
And though the legal responsibility for the committed crimes is, indeed, individual, there is also a common social responsibility that all Russians should bear for the horrors that have been inflicted on Ukraine.
Yet, massive popular support in Russia for the war is a grim reality that not all European leaders seem ready to appreciate.
For instance, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz keeps holding on to his concept of “Putin’s war.” But Germans know better than anyone else that common social responsibility does exist, that assuming common guilt is the only way to overcome common mistakes of the past. Germans have assumed guilt for what their country did in World War II for generations.
But Russians haven’t even begun. In fact, they’re moving in the opposite direction. Let’s take off the rose-colored glasses and wake up to the reality of Russian fascism. Placing the blame solely on President Vladimir Putin is dangerously naive. Russia won’t change until generations of Russians assume common responsibility and guilt for what their country has done.
It is therefore imperative that all EU and G7 countries cease issuing tourist visas to Russians as a first step, to sober them up.
They must be deprived of the right to cross international borders until they learn to respect them.
It is true, of course, that a small minority of Russians oppose Putin and the war against Ukraine. Some of them risk persecution at home and must retain the opportunity to seek asylum. I am confident that all necessary procedures for the vulnerable few will remain in place.
Equally, entry on humanitarian grounds should also remain possible. But tourism and non-essential travel must stop now. Russians who support the war will simply have to make up their minds: Do they want to destroy Europe, or enjoy vacations there?
It’s important to understand that those who support the aggression against Ukraine, with the use of missiles and tanks, are also supporting Russia’s aggression against Europe and the West by weaponizing energy to trigger higher gas prices and inflation, fomenting political instability.
A Russian tourist taking a smiling selfie at the Brandenburg Gate or the Eiffel Tower is most likely someone who also adores Putin and wants Europeans to freeze this winter.
Take, for example, Russian pop star Philip Kirkorov who, accompanied by propaganda media, visited a military hospital in occupied Crimea to support wounded Russian soldiers, shortly before going to Las Vegas and Monaco to enjoy a lavish vacation.
People like him retain their right to hypocrisy thanks to the deceptive “Putin’s war” narrative.
Such Orwellian doublethink is essential for any dictatorship, and Russian whataboutism is a crucial part of this dual reality. For instance, while Putin’s supporters may want Russia to be a global power, they simultaneously support policies that drive it into North Korea-like isolation. Though they may want everyone in the world to respect them, they themselves disrespect others. And even as they might talk for hours about America’s wars, they support their own country’s invasion of Ukraine without even trying to create a casus belli.
Living such a dual reality is quite common for Russians — generations did just that in the Soviet Union. And Russia has never come to terms with its totalitarian past. It has never assumed guilt for Soviet crimes after the USSR’s collapse. A poll carried out by the Levada Center just last year showed around 60 percent of Russians still have a positive view of Stalin. So, no surprise that modern Russian propaganda has succeeded in splitting Russian minds in two so easily.
And no other topic reveals Russian doublethink better than its citizens’ attitudes toward Europe. They manage to somehow envy the well-being of Europeans and hate it at the same time. They enjoy humiliating European values and fantasizing about Europe’s imminent collapse, but they prefer to spend their holidays in Biarritz and send their offspring to school in London.
This double standard cannot continue, and banning their tourist travel will end the ambiguity. Having it both ways should not be an option.
There’s also a very practical side to this debate in terms of security. Russians pose an elevated risk of hate crimes and conflict, especially now, when they’re being brainwashed daily by aggressive propaganda. They’re already known for their notorious behavior at global resorts and touristic places, but these risks are now even higher. Turning them away will increase security and reduce crime.
Tourism is an achievement of peace and humanity. Belligerent nations that break international peace must lose access to the privileges of peaceful coexistence.
This was exactly the reason why, at the end of April, the U.N. World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) suspended Russia by an overwhelming majority of votes, far exceeding the required two-thirds threshold.
Following the vote, the organization’s Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said: “Tourism is a pillar of peace and international friendship, and members of UNWTO must uphold these values or face consequences, with no exceptions. This emergency General Assembly shows that Russia’s actions are indefensible and contrary to the very principles of UNWTO.”
Ukraine is now actively working with partners in the EU and G7 to persuade them to turn away Russian tourists. We see it as one of the most effective personal sanctions against Russia. Unlike some other restrictive measures, it costs almost nothing, enhances security, needs no additional legislation and sends a powerful signal to all Russians. It says that Putin and his supporters have shut the Russia’s door to Europe.