Home Culture and Society Ban on Access to Europe for Russians: Harmful Populism of Eastern Europe...

Ban on Access to Europe for Russians: Harmful Populism of Eastern Europe or the Practice of Double Standards – Paul Tolmachev

A few words on the agenda about the total restriction of access of Russians to Europe and other developed countries.

Such proposals were initially put forward by the Ukrainian side some time ago. The proposals were partially supported by officials in Latvia and Estonia, as well as in Poland and some other Eastern European countries. At the same time, representatives of the authorities of the main European powers – Germany, France and Italy, as well as the U.S. officially spoke out against such potential measures. Olaf Scholz noted: “We are not at war with the Russians, but with the current political regime.

At the same time, the absolute majority of all opposition camps in Russian society also harshly criticized both the statement by Kiev representatives and the support for these statements by representatives of the governments of the Baltic states and Poland. 

The fallacy of the proposal to cut off the possibility for any Russian to enter European countries regardless of the purpose or to deprive Russians who are already there of residency rights lies not only in the fact that a limitation of rights based on nationality is launched (which in itself is an extraordinary, if not extreme call), but also in the senselessness, if not perniciousness of such an initiative in terms of political and social consequences.  

What are the grounds deemed rational and fundamentally justified by the initiators of such events? In general, they are obvious and initially based on the general democratic paradigm of political processes, which, however, it makes no sense to take as a basis for political strategy in relation to a rigid authoritarian state. 

Conventionally it looks like this. You Russians are the citizens of your country. You determine and, in fact, accept in one way or another-by voting, by plebiscite, or by silent non-resistance-the legitimacy of your government. It is you – the citizens – who are the substratum of all decisions of your government. And if your government’s decisions are criminal or effectively condemned by the world community, but you do nothing to have these decisions overturned and power changed, then you remain, active or passive, but a source of support and continuation of such a policy that is unacceptable to the world. This means that it is impossible to divide the state into a tyranny of power and a protesting or oppressed people, but it is possible to see them as mutually supporting components of a single whole, an aggressive totalitarian state. Actually, this is how one aggressive totalitarian state and its people were viewed – as one whole – in Western Europe in the 30s-40s of the 20th century. In such a case, maximum restrictions on international mobility should be imposed, among other things, so that active protest against the main culprit – your power – becomes proactive and changes either the power itself or its decisions.

This is the nominal causation of the Ukrainian side and the official representatives of several European countries that supported it.

I would like to note again that active support of such shortsighted and illiterate proposals of the Ukrainian side was shown by the countries of Eastern Europe and the Baltics – the very representatives of the so-called Justice Block, calling to reject any possible negotiations with Moscow on peace and its terms until Ukraine wins and until then to isolate Russia as a state and its citizens as much as possible. 

The reasons for this attitude are clear and obvious: they see Russia as a constant historical threat of occupation and aggression, which is certainly not an unfounded fear. 

However, it is worth putting aside historical reflections and looking at things soberly from the point of view of social behaviorism and political science, namely the goals, factors, incentives and predictable consequences applicable as rational grounds for balanced and effective political decisions. 

There are many nuances to this consideration.

First, in an authoritarian regime, where the usurpation of power occurs in one way or another – whether it is a tyranny or a majority-approved informational autocracy – people’s political preferences and behavior are determined through informational manipulation or repressive fear, or both. At the same time, if such mechanisms of domestic politics work smoothly and if authoritarian power is legitimate in the eyes of the majority of the population, then a homogeneity of social support for political decisions is achieved against the background of the uncritical state of the economy at the moment and the quality of life acceptable to the population.  

A refusal or substantial restrictions on free cooperation with the developed world at the level of movement or emigration will in no way stimulate the population, which accepts the policy implemented by the regime, for protest activity, as it should do according to the logic of the initiators of such restrictions. 

Second, the proposed restrictions could directly affect about 25 percent of the population. This 25 percent is codified in different ways: from those who have passports at all, to those who disagree with the decisions of the Regime in one way or another. However, in general, these are the upper social strata; the rest of the population will not be affected by such restrictions at all. 

Moreover, those dissenters from this quarter who would like to leave the country and have nothing to do with the regime will be forced to stay, which will be a potential incentive for them to become loyalists or even more passive, as a way of surviving under a regime-loyal majority. 

Third, in an authoritarian dictatorship with a majority that legitimizes it, there is always a difficulty in consolidating the forces in opposition to the regime and creating a large-scale protest mood that translates into active action. Even if we assume that 25 percent of Russians who disagree and are wrapped up in a country vacuum will be active in expressing their position, even for a hypothetical positive result of this disagreement, such activity needs to be channeled, that is, politically regulated. 

There is currently no organized political opposition in Russia due to a sufficiently effective and growing repressive system and the results of its work. Accordingly, even a hypothetical activity of potential dissenters can never bring about the desired outcome, not to mention the utopian nature of the very concept of a “people’s revolution.

Fourth, any decisions on the part of developed “unfriendly” countries that actually squeeze the personal “natural” rights of Russians not selectively, but in a total way, contradict the liberal-democratic Western legal values. This will be a rich source for reinforcing propaganda rhetoric that is hostile to the West and will strengthen the Regime’s effectiveness in modeling the social preferences it needs.  As a consequence, this will strengthen the Regime’s social support and, consequently, prolong its lifespan and political vector. The incitement of hatred and nationalism of total propaganda can intensify to an extraordinary intensity, we have seen it in Western and Eastern Europe in the first half of the 20th century, and we remember what it led to and what it led to.

Fifth, and this is the most important point, we must remember that the modern authoritarian regime in Russia has grown, developed and gained strength within the paradigm of the modern Western concept of “pragmatic politics”, the concept of “realpolitik”, or to be more precise, with its full cooperation. I have spoken about this in great detail in my academic and public articles.

Dense cooperation of developed countries with the resource-based Russian autocracy as a convenient source of reducing production costs and increasing competitiveness has caused the resource curse effect in a number of Western economies. In particular, this has hindered the intensive diversification of Europe’s energy supply, and it has determined the de facto “vegetarianism” of Western sanctions policy as a response to Russia’s actions with regard to the Ukrainian territories in 2014.

It is worth remembering, however, that appeals to Western governments to intensify measures to reduce resource dependence on Russia as soon as possible in order to reduce the gains of Russian authoritarianism and to limit cooperation with it have been heard from various quarters over the past 15 years. The expert community of many leading Western think tanks as well as leaders of Russia’s opposition have repeatedly and loudly spoken of the viciousness of this policy and suggested alternative strategies. But at best, this has been accepted as a correct “nominal,” a benchmark, and a long-term goal. In reality, the dominant doctrine was “today we must be flexible” (B. Obama, 2013) and “the Russian regime is pragmatic and rational, we can work with it” (A. Merkel, 2016), which actually led to even greater economic integration between Russia and the West, despite rhetorical proclamations of confrontation. 

As a result, today we have what we have.

Moreover, those countries – Latvia, Estonia and Poland – that more than others advocate a total ban on any Russians’ access to Europe and are the most formidable hawks against Russia, continue to work closely with it and are still contributors to the sustainability of the Russian economy and, consequently, to the prolongation of the war. 

For example, since August 5, 2022 Latvia decided to resume purchase of Russian gas through the pipeline Valdai – Pskov – Riga, which enters Latvia from Russia via Estonia at Luhamaa point. 

At the same time, total exports to Russia from the Baltic states in June 2022 increased by 34 percent from May, imports from Poland increased by more than 50 percent, from 250 million to 395 million euros. Overall, EU exports to Russia rose by 18 percent during the month. 

As another fact of “realpolitik” and, in fact, a policy of double standards on the part of Russia’s strictest critics, the Baltic states, we can mention an extremely selective approach to sanctions measures against very rich, but not very publicly known people who have long been functionaries of the Russian regime and are very tightly affiliated with it.

Lithuania took the most reasonable position, limiting tourist but not humanitarian visa regime with Russia. This step is justified both from moral and political points of view. On the one hand, citizens of the country – the initiator of hostilities – can not exist in the former recreational regime with “unfriendly” countries, and on the other hand, all working, family, educational and other humanitarian reasons for entry remain valid, and the visa regime in their regard remains the same.

So what could really create real pressure on the ability of the Russian regime to implement the current policy, and what incentives could form the potential for change, according to the Western expert community?

I have talked about this more than once, and I will briefly list again the main points that are considered by the leading Western experts. I will note that the basic concept of such measures, according to the researchers, is the following: it is necessary to deprive the Russian regime of both external and internal resources and opportunities. This means:

  • maximum expansion of the nomenclature of goods and services to restrict exports to Russia
  • expanding the range of goods and services in order to limit imports from Russia 
  • more intensive reduction of hydrocarbon imports from Russia
  • expansion and tightening of secondary sanctions and transport insurance sanctions on relevant Russian goods
  • lifting of threats of prosecution and capital amnesty for top emigrants – former regime functionaries or affiliated businessmen
  • maximizing the incentives for emigration: easing the conditions for emigration of white-collar workers and specialists
  • easing visa regime for students
  • intensifying military support for Ukraine, including software and training.

It is a complex of measures, according to expert opinions in Western analytical centers, aimed at limiting the vital resources and conditions of existence of the Russian regime, that can accelerate a change in the position of the Russian side. I emphasize – a complex, because none of the listed steps separately cannot be effective enough and cannot intensify the compulsion of the Russian side to peace, the researchers assert. Some initiatives, like the price ceiling on hydrocarbons, are meaningless and useless at all, according to a considerable part of analysts.

Thus the concept of collective guilt and proposals to de-nationalize all Russians by nationality, or more precisely, by passport, are an ineffective and politically destructive way of forcing Russia to change its policies. The desire to apply it is either a classic cognitive distortion and the result of political immaturity and reflexivity of the leadership of some Western European countries, or a deliberate bluff in the political competition within the European Union. The latter, in particular, was directly mentioned, if not “let slip”, by the mayor of Riga in an interview with a TV channel that recently resumed broadcasting after a forced hiatus. Elections in four of the five countries that have announced support for the initiative to shut out Russians entirely from their territory are scheduled to take place in the first half of 2023. In the Czech Republic the elections will be held in 2025, but it is worth bearing in mind that the current support rating of the Fiala government is about 21 percent, the anti-rating is 71 percent. Taking into account the public mood in these countries which is strongly anti-Russian we may assume the inevitable exploitation of the formed discourse of social opinion as a base for gaining a competitive advantage. 

However, we can say with great confidence that the leading powers in Europe and the United States will not indulge in East European populism.

At least not today.