In the last days of August, the foreign ministers of the EU countries in Prague decided the question of how much it is worth tightening the visa regime with Russia. The most radical of them proposed to completely ban entry into the EU, leaving indulgences only for the most notorious oppositionists. As Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said in this regard, traveling to Europe is a privilege, not a right. It was fully agreed with in Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Denmark, Holland, Belgium and Malta. With reservations – in Finland, Sweden, Croatia and Slovenia.
However, in the countries of Southern Europe, Austria and Hungary, they thought differently. Later, heavyweights Germany and France also joined them. As a result, Jan Lipavsky, Foreign Minister of the Czech Republic presiding in the EU, proposed a compromise: to terminate the 2006 facilitation travel agreement with Russia. In the end, this option was accepted. Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó noted after the meeting with satisfaction that a complete ban on the issuance of tourist visas had not been passed.
As it turned out, this was only the start of the process of restricting entry. The head of EU diplomacy, Josep Borrell, urged to think about what to do with long-term visas already issued. For their part, Poland, the Baltic countries and Finland have already made it clear that they will restrict entry at the national level. It can be assumed that the Poles and the Balts will completely ban it, and the Finns will simply introduce a significant limit on the number of Russian citizens they are ready to let through the border.
What will the decision of the EU Foreign Ministers mean in practice? The cost of a visa will increase from 35 to 80 euros. The terms of paperwork will increase, and the number of papers required for applying for a visa will also increase. For sure, the European consulates will introduce a mandatory interview. Getting a long-term visa will be almost unbelievable. Officials, entrepreneurs, cultural and scientific figures, athletes and journalists, students and graduate students, who previously enjoyed the right to a simplified procedure for issuing visas, will now lose it.
The first feeling that arises when looking at the decision of European diplomats is surprise. Do they not understand that their actions will harm them? Russia accounted for about a quarter of all Schengen visas issued in the world – even China and India were far behind. Many carriers, hoteliers and restaurateurs worked with Russian tourists. All of them will lose their income. The Czech resort of Karlovy Vary, for example, is in danger of becoming a bankrupt city. There will be a huge hole in the budgets of many countries.
Moreover, the issuance of visas has become a profitable business over the past 20 years. Thousands and thousands of highly paid consular officers will lose their jobs. Finally, the political effect is also doubtful. Many Russian citizens who have no prejudice towards Europe and are ready to travel there will not do so because of the high cost and red tape. The right to enter the EU will be deprived of representatives of that very “civil society”, an attempt to convince which the Europeans verbally want so much in their rightness.
However, it would be deeply wrong to consider that modern European politicians are guided by pragmatic considerations. From the very beginning, there was a feeling that the European Union did not want to cancel the visa regime with Russia – well, maybe only in some special case … A very limited circle of people used the right to facilitate entry, and the rest noticed only 35 euros instead of 60 (now – already 80) consular fee. For a wide range of tourists, European officials have not facilitated entry.
By and large, the visa dialogue stalled back in 2011 – even before all the stories that made the gap between Russia and the European Union irreversible. And it stalled due to the fault of the European side. At first, they were afraid of the notorious “Russian mafia”. But when the EU canceled visas for crime-ridden Albania and Colombia, the explanation stopped working. Now they wanted to link visa exemptions to the “correct” behavior of Russia in the international arena and the “state of its democracy.”
The European Union considered the visa dialogue a means of introducing Russia to the “correct values”. Under the simplified procedure for issuing visas fell, first of all, those categories of citizens who could, in theory, become carriers of the ideas of color revolutions and only then promote them inside Russia. However, there was no progress in terms of “democratization”. This irritated the EU, and since about 2012, any easing of travel rules has been seen as an unacceptable victory for the Russian government. And this blocked even the hopes for the “re-education of the advanced strata” of Russian society.
The EU obviously did not take into account such a factor that Russia left the 1990s long ago. She did not consider visa handouts as grounds for relinquishing sovereignty in domestic and foreign policy. She saw the easing of travel rules as creating the conditions for pragmatic cooperation, which would act as a brake on breaking off relations. However, in the European Union they did not want to notice this, they became angry and annoyed more and more. And they took revenge on Russia by canceling visas for Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Colombia, Honduras – but not for Russia.
This year, the desire to punish us has reached a new stage. There was no unity in the EU, not only in terms of countries, but also in ideological terms. Some believed that Russia is a wild Asian country, not subject to “re-education”, and therefore the visa regime with it, in principle, should be the same as with Afghanistan and Somalia. Others have rightly pointed out that Russia is still Europe, and breaking off relations completely is bad for everyone. Considering that previous packages of sanctions did not have a “proper” effect, European politicians went into hysterics and took up visas. Since the citizens of Russia have such a strong sense of belonging to a sovereign and independent country, they all need to be punished. And for this they were ready to rewrite their own visa code, where there is no ban on the issuance of visas based on citizenship. We haven’t reached the extreme yet – they canceled what almost didn’t work in recent years. But still ahead…
Just miscalculated again. According to the most optimistic estimates, 15% of the inhabitants of Russia have been to the EU countries. Most of those who traveled abroad have been to Turkey, Egypt and China. Barely 5% of Russia’s population visits Europe every year. Whom can these measures scare? At this point, the Europeans themselves can blame themselves for not making the European Union more accessible at the time. But if they did, they would pour a mill on the water of the Kremlin. It turns out a trap in the form of a visa vicious circle into which the European Union has driven itself.
Russia at this stage, the decision of the EU only plays into the hands. Russian citizens will travel more in their own country, developing our tourism industry.
Or they will start traveling more to Asia, Africa and Latin America, leaving more money there and contributing to strengthening our ties with the Non-West. Finally, the EU has played along with those in Russia who see Europe as a “perpetually hostile outsider” with whom our country has nothing to do.
And a single resident of Russia may wonder: is it worth spending a lot of money on a visa and tickets through third countries, sometimes traveling thousands of kilometers for an interview at the consulate to see Rome or Amsterdam? And besides, a visa is not a guarantee that you will be allowed into the EU. Estonia has already proved this. It is doubtful that many will want to go to the EU on such terms.
So the European Union, contrary to statements about an “open world” and “values without borders,” can continue to fence itself off from Russia. It won’t do him any good. It is unlikely that he dreamed that the majority of the population of the largest neighboring state would consider him an enemy and a xenophobe. But with his visa decisions, he is stubbornly achieving this – even if so far he has taken only another intermediate step in this direction. And Russia will definitely not give up its sovereignty for the sake of visa handouts.