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Don’t ban Russians from Europe

Estonia’s capital Tallinn: no Russians allowed. Eloi Omella/Getty

Efforts to punish Russia for the Ukraine invasion are taking an illiberal turn, says Maximilian Hess in Al Jazeera. Following a demand from President Zelensky, many European countries are making it tougher for Russians to visit. Estonia has barred entry to Russian nationals to whom it previously issued visas; Finland has announced it will slash the number of visas it grants to Russians by 90% in September. “Latvia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic and Denmark have also expressed support for various degrees of bans.”

These moves are wrong-headed for several reasons. First, visa bans are “inherently illiberal” acts of collective punishment, bringing to mind Donald Trump’s “demagogic calls” for a “Muslim ban”. Vladimir Putin’s war is partly an assault on Western liberalism – tarnishing our own values hands him a victory. Second, bans undermine the sanctions which aim to cripple the Kremlin’s war machine. “Ensuring the best and brightest in Russia can flee Putin’s misrule further weakens the Russian state.” And finally, bans “play into Putin’s propaganda” by restricting his subjects from experiencing the outside world for themselves. “It is hard to imagine people striving for an alternative if they do not know one exists.” Kremlin-affiliated elites have already been barred from Europe via sanctions. Closing the door to ordinary, blameless Russians will just allow Putin to “invent even more grandiose and inane lies about Western realities”.