by Gabriel Gavin
Tuesday, 9
August 2022
Debate
16:36

Banning Russians from Europe won’t hurt Putin

Zelenskyy's controversial proposal could play into the Kremlin’s hands
by Gabriel Gavin
Credit: Getty

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called on Western leaders to prevent Russians from living, travelling and working in their countries, insisting that the brutal war being waged by the Kremlin should have repercussions for its citizens as well.

“The most important sanctions are to close the borders,” he told The Washington Post on Monday. “Because the Russians are taking away someone else’s land,” Zelenskyy argued, they must “live in their own world until they change their philosophy”.


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The idea is already a popular one. Just last week, Latvia and Bulgaria reportedly stopped issuing most types of visa from their Moscow consulates, while Finland and Estonia have previously called on the EU to bar the country’s 150 million citizens from the bloc. Other states are said to have put Russians to the back of the queue, pledging to process any and all paperwork from Ukrainians first.

Though it may be tempting to make ordinary Russians pay the price for their politicians’ crimes, the strategy may well backfire.

When I left Moscow for Istanbul earlier this year, my plane was packed with those fleeing the repercussions of the war — fearing economic chaos and political repression back home. With their bank cards cut off by sanctions, the Russians I knew traded cash, offered each other sofas to sleep on and talked endlessly about the horrors of the conflict.

One, a twenty-something barista named Sasha, told me he had never been out of the country before — but had always dreamed of working in the West. Yet, having volunteered for jailed opposition figure Alexey Navalny’s campaign, he knew he had to leave when he got his paperwork for military service. “I hate Putin as much as my Ukrainian friends do,” he said, “after all, he f*cked my country first”. He now hopes to relocate to Germany.

Others found it easier to leave because they have good jobs in technology, working remotely or for international companies where they can be re-assigned. The Kremlin has already been forced to admit it is facing severe problems in a number of sectors of the economy because highly skilled specialists are packing up and leaving.

Blocking dissidents from escaping and helping prevent Russia’s ongoing brain drain doesn’t help Ukraine — it helps Putin. And worse still, it won’t even hurt the right Russians. The well-heeled elites who have profited off his system of crony capitalism are far more likely to have foreign passports bought and paid for through investment schemes from countries like Cyprus and the UK. They will still be jetting off to Paris to shop for the luxury brands that have pulled out of Russia, while ordinary people like Sasha suffer. On top of that, every young man like him who dodges the draft and leaves the country rather than be conscripted to the front lines is another Russian soldier the Ukrainians don’t have to kill

However, not every Russian is a dissident or a refusenik. While polls are mixed and independent data is hard to come by, it is clear that the majority of the country’s citizens support the war. Even those who don’t aren’t making their voices heard on the streets given the potential cost of speaking out is so high. The complaints heard in the streets of Moscow are more about the lack of Western products on the shelves than they are about the killings being committed in their name.

While the state and its media outlets are doing everything to convince ordinary Russians that they are despised, suspected and persecuted abroad, that’s just a propaganda line. In reality, it benefits all of Europe, including Ukraine, to welcome those who reject Putin’s war with open arms.

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Mike Doyle
Mike Doyle
3 months ago

Allowing as many Russians to flee as wish to, would do far more damage to Putin than anything else the West might reasonably do.

William MacDougall
William MacDougall
3 months ago

It also smacks of ethnic hatred. Even in a democracy, ordinary civilians are not responsible for their government’s actions. Excluding officials might be understandable, but ordinary people guilty of nothing?

stephen archer
stephen archer
3 months ago

When your home country has invaded a neighbouring country and is waging a barbaric war tageting civilians and totally destroying cities, towns and villages do you think it’s morally acceptable to then travel to supporting countries just for pleasure? In this situation, shouldn’t you be doing something else instead? “Ethnic hatred”? That’s just absurd.

stephen archer
stephen archer
3 months ago
Reply to  stephen archer

Over the last month or so there seems to have been a number of Russian trolls or sympathisers frequenting the Unherd comments when articles concerning the war have appeared. Instead of replying to comments it’s more convenient just to downtick. Why don’t you come out into the open and express yourselves regarding what you really think ? Cowards!!

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
3 months ago

Sensible advice would have been ‘flee flee’ till only the pathetic and gormless were left…..

Jackie Verbowski
Jackie Verbowski
3 months ago

So which is it? Is banning Russians from the EU “a popular idea” or is it mere Kremlin propaganda that Russians are “despised, suspected and persecuted abroad”? It seems like a bit of cognitive dissonance to believe both that Europeans are currently welcoming Russian travelers while at the exact same time wanting to ban them.
I never thought there would be a demographic even more despised than poor white conservatives but lo, behold the Russian orcs, about whom you are encouraged, nay, required, to believe the worst, and only the worst. They, despite being always drunk, are ruthless killing machines, brutally targeting only civilians, whom the virtuous, heroic, and very sober Ukrainian army is sadly unable to protect. Their spare time is spent raping, pillaging, and stealing everything that isn’t nailed down, including washing machines, toilets and farm equipment. We know this is true because the Ukrainians say so and they never lie. Yet despite their constant impairment, ceaseless sexual assault, rampant pointless cruelty and egregious theft, the Russians somehow manage to continue to take more and more territory from our brave, angelic, blessed Ukrainian heroes. It just makes no sense at all!
So yeah, stereotypes are stupid and unhelpful, and to believe that one nation’s people are more or less good or evil than another nation’s people is infantile and almost certainly dangerous. The deification of Ukrainians and demonization of Russians is leading the world to a very bad place, a place where maybe one could even justify dropping nuclear bombs on a nation of vicious orcs, or at least turn a blind eye while our heroes cause a catastrophic nuclear meltdown by shelling a power plant with the MLRS we gave them, because we’re pretty sure the main victims will be Russian orcs and those few worthless (fake) Ukrainians who side with them.
The threadbare conceit about “hurting Putin” is getting so irritating. You yourself admit that Russians broadly support the invasion of Ukraine. If you were being completely honest, you might mention that Putin himself enjoys widespread support. Really, it’s a bit of a conundrum, how to hurt Putin without hurting Russians in general. Perhaps the people who express their hatred for Russians as a people, the most extreme version being the foreign mercenaries who go to Ukraine motivated solely by the desire to “kill some Russians”, are just those who have realized this and are being honest.
If by expressing a desire to hurt Putin you are expressing some kind of hope for a path toward regime change, well, be careful what you wish for. From what I gather, Putin is rather moderate in his politics and quite cautious and deliberate in his actions. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t. Ah, but I forget they’re all just orcs anyway so I suppose it makes no difference unless we can find one we can train up in our “western values” so they can be (almost) as good as we are. As long as they think and act like us and realize they have no valid interests apart from what we want it will be fine. I mean, why wouldn’t they want the west to take over, or at least help them out with a regime change? Look at the great job we’ve done in places like Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan, not to mention Ukraine itself. Poor stupid Russians, they really ought to let us help them.

Last edited 3 months ago by Jackie Verbowski
Andrew F
Andrew F
3 months ago

Your usage of “we” and “us” in context of your post is a bad joke, you Ruskiy stooge.
It is Putin who keeps threatening use of nuclear weapons.
As you say most Russians support looting, raping and killing of Ukrainians.
So it follows that genocidal Orcs should be banned from travelling to Europe.

Noel Chiappa
Noel Chiappa
3 months ago

If the Russian people (who are the real root of the problem, with their gullibility for Putin’s line about the recreation of the powerful Russian Empire) haven’t yet gotten the message that the rest of us think they are nekulturny barbarians for their invasion of Ukraine, this suggested move isn’t going to do it. The downsides of this move probably outweigh the upsides. Better to encourage them to flee.

Noel Chiappa
Noel Chiappa
3 months ago
Reply to  Noel Chiappa

Wow, lots of Russian trolls here, down-voting anti-Russian comments.

stephen archer
stephen archer
3 months ago
Reply to  Noel Chiappa

Yes, one wonders of the mentality of these lowlifers!

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
3 months ago

Well, it’d be no great loss. Anywhere I’ve gone on holidays, Russians invariably are the rudest, surliest, most unpleasant people you’ll ever encounter.  A horrible culture.

Justin Clark
Justin Clark
3 months ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

and they’re just the family au pairs

Jackie Verbowski
Jackie Verbowski
3 months ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

Apparently you don’t vacation anywhere popular with American tourists. I’m American and alas, I often find my compatriots behaving in an entitled, obnoxious and unreasonable manner.

Andrew F
Andrew F
3 months ago

If you are American Ruskiy bot, you need some extra language training.