- Hans Weber
- June 6, 2023
Visa Denied: Europe Moves to Close Its Doors to Russians
Esponage and sabotage
Governments cite security concerns in support of the proposed visa ban. Many have experienced, in one form or another, Russian intelligence operations on their soil, some involving violence.
Relations between Prague and Moscow hit rock bottom following revelations last year that Russia’s GRU military intelligence was behind the 2014 explosion of the Vrbetice arms depot, which killed two Czech citizens. Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky has suggested that a visa ban could help “decrease the influence of the Russian secret service in the EU”.
Bratislava already abolished the visa-free regime for holders of Russian diplomatic passports at the beginning of March following a visa-related scandal in 2020, which arose when the staff of the Slovak consulate in St Petersburg granted a visa to a Russian national using a fake identity, who was later allegedly involved in the murder of a Georgian citizen in Berlin.
The security case has only been strengthened by an incident in Albania on August 20 when two Russians and a Ukrainian passport holder were detained while entering an arms factory in Gramsh and allegedly assaulted soldiers guarding the area.
“[T]ravel freedoms ease the Kremlin’s espionage, sabotage, murder, sanctions-dodging, propaganda stunts and money laundering,” wrote British writer and security consultant Edward Lucas, a noted critic of Putin’s Russia..
Proponents of the ban also argue that it will ratchet up the pressure on the Putin regime. They gleefully point to the Russian outrage that greeted the news of the proposed ban. Kremlin spokesman Peskov, (he of the dancing, plate-throwing model wife in Greece), was quoted as saying that “the irrationality of thinking” behind calls for such bans “is off the charts” and “any attempt to isolate Russians or Russia is a process that has no prospects.”
Detractors of the proposed ban fall back on ethical arguments against targeting an entire ethnic or political group for the actions of a few. And these fundamental values are consequently reflected in EU law.
“It would be a difficult to instigate a ban because of the EU philosophy against collective punishment and this philosophy is reflected in our laws by the way we have written them,” Piotr Maciej Kaczynski, a senior expert at the Bronislaw Geremek Foundation, told BIRN . “Any ban would definitely be challenged in the courts.”
However, other legal scholars counter that no absolute right to travel through the EU exists, except in case of asylum, and EU migration law makes it clear by introducing ‘gradualism’ into its visa-free regime.
“The law already includes the principle of gradualism of travel rights dependent on third-country government actions,” argued Francesco Nicoli, assistant professor in Economic Governance at the University of Ghent, on the EU legal affairs site Verfassungsblog.
“Such principle must have a legal basis in primary law; the crux is extending the applicability of the principle from a two-tiered system (visa-free or visa requirement) into a three-tiered one. This a matter of secondary legislation, not a matter of constitution; the constitutionally-granted right – the fundamental right to escape unjust prosecution – remains completely untouched by short-term tourist visa bans,” Nicoli said.
The European Commission and the US have also emphasized the need to protect dissidents, journalists and their families. The EU’s Borrell has said that more than 300,000 Russians have fled their lives under the Putin regime since the war began.
Yet Foreign Minister Landsbergis dismissed this argument, noting that the Lithuanian authorities have issued no visas for Russian or Belarusian tourists, yet are continuing to issue them on humanitarian grounds for those under threat, despite limited consular capacities.
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