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Kyiv, Ukraine — As discussions heat up over a possible ban on tourist visas for Russian nationals in the European Union — a move publicly backed by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in recent weeks — not everyone is on board.
These include some of Zelenskyy’s own advisers and European backers.
Zelensky, in an exclusive interview with The Washington Post conducted in early August, said that the way to stop Russia from annexing even more Ukrainian territory is for Western countries to announce that in response they will remove all Russian citizens would ban.
Wartime Ukraine leaders hinted that ordinary Russians – even those living outside of Russia – bear collective responsibility for the war and the loss of Ukrainian land. “What kind of Russians … let them go to Russia,” Zelensky told The Post.
An interview with the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy
This stance – as well as other aspects of the wide-ranging interview – has proved controversial both inside and outside Ukraine, including among Zelenskyy’s allies.
Oleksiy Arestovych, A military adviser in Zelenskyy’s government said he disagreed with the idea of a blanket ban on all Russians and Belarusians.
“I’m still not a believer in collective responsibility [but of] person,” Arestovych told The Post. He said he was “more selective” in choosing applicants not to be granted visas, citing the example of those who openly support Russian President Vladimir Putin. “They would be banned [and have] other sanctions imposed on them,” he said.
Arestovych acknowledged that it is “technically very difficult” to determine “whether someone supports Putin or not” – and he suggested that this may have prompted the Zelenskyi government to decide it was “easier to support everyone.” ban,” although he said he was not part of those discussions.
Zelenskyy urges West to ban all Russian travelers
Even though the war in Ukraine is nearing its half-year mark, there is no blanket travel ban for Russian nationals, as Zelenskyy is proposing. Russian airlines have been banned from overflying most of Europe and North America, making it harder for Russians to travel abroad. However, Russian citizens are still free to apply for a visa to visit the United States, for example.
Nevertheless, in the past few days, some European countries have decided to limit the issuance of visas to Russians.
Finland announced it will reduce the number of available visa appointments in Russia by allocating just 100 out of 500 appointments per day for tourist visa applicants, according to Portal. Authorities in Latvia are discussing a measure to stop issuing temporary residence permits to Russians and Belarusians.
And Estonia said it would invalidate most previously issued visas to Russian nationals. Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas tweeted that other European countries should “stop issuing tourist visas to Russians”.
Stop issuing tourist visas to Russians. Visit #Europe is a privilege, not a human right. Air traffic from RU will be suspended. That is, while Schengen countries issue visas, Russia’s neighbors bear the burden (FI, EE, LV – sole entry points). It’s time to end tourism from Russia now
— Kaja Kallas (@kajakallas) August 9, 2022
The Czech Republic, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, said it plans to invite a discussion on an EU-wide visa ban for Russian tourists at an informal meeting of European foreign ministers on August 31. Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky has spoken out in favor of a ban.
“We, as a government, believe that stopping visas for ordinary Russian citizens sends a very clear and direct signal to Russian society,” Lipavsky told Politico last week. “The citizens of these countries should realize that such militant policies have consequences,” he added.
In his nightly address on Sunday, Zelenskyi celebrated the growing demands for a visa ban. “The discussion about visa restrictions in Europe for holders of Russian passports is increasing every day. New states and new politicians are joining it,” he said.
Road to war: The US tried to convince allies and Zelenskyy of the risk of an invasion
As the ranks of those calling for a visa ban grow, not all countries are on board. Chancellor Olaf Scholz rejected support for an EU-wide ban on travelers to Russia on Monday. “This is not the war of the Russian people, but Putin’s war,” said Scholz in Oslo. He added that many Russians are fleeing their country “because they don’t agree with the Russian regime.”
But the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Dmytro Kuleba, said Kyiv does not propose a ban on “the few Russians who may need asylum or humanitarian entry.”
Russia itself has taken steps to restrict issuing visas to travelers from countries the government deems “unfriendly,” including the United States and European nations.
A central sticking point in the debate was the question of how far-reaching a visa ban should be and how it could be enforced. Zelensky himself may have added to the confusion, arguing at times that all Russian nationals – including those studying in Europe – should be sent home.
“Whatever the citizens of the Russian Federation may be – there are those who support and do not support them – their children are there, studying abroad, in schools, universities and so on. Let them go to Russia,” he told the Post.
He later conceded that a visa ban could not be universal. “There are people who really need protection, who are being persecuted in Russia, maybe even killed, and that’s why they should get help from the civilized world,” he said on Friday, adding that there are mechanisms in place to seek asylum or the to obtain refugee status. However, he argued that “the rest of Russian citizens in Europe should be banned from tourism, entertainment, business affairs.”
On Tuesday, Arestovych criticized the Ukrainians, who prefer to anger all Russians rather than side with Kiev.
“It’s easier to hate and deny everyone,” Arestovych wrote in a lengthy social media post. “It’s tens and hundreds of thousands [Russians and Belarusians] on the frontier our side could take – at least through internal disagreements – but now they won’t.”
“You have chosen to hate and fence in, where you need to skillfully count and calculate, provoke, involve and create,” Arestovych wrote, speaking as if addressing all Ukrainians.
However, he told the Post that his statements are unrelated to the visa ban proposals. Instead, they targeted Ukrainians who wanted to create a “culture of rejection” for Russians and Belarusians.
In response to the growing debate over a visa ban in Europe, applications from Russians for short-term Schengen visas – which generally allow the holder to travel within the 26 countries that make up the Schengen area – have skyrocketed in recent weeks, Moscow reported Times , citing local travel agents.
Timsit reported from France and Khurshudyan from Tbilisi, Georgia. Mary Ilyushina in Riga, Latvia contributed to this report.