Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Visa-free travel as a political response to Putin

For more than a decade, I have argued the need to politically and economically integrate Russia in the wider European community. For the most part, I have been met by ridicule suggesting that I have underestimated the “foreignness” of Russia and its “natural” instincts to dominate its neighbours. Instead of integration, we Europeans have locked Russia out, most visibly by denying its citizens the right to visit our continent without a visa but also politically by constantly expanding both NATO and the EU towards its borders yet never even hinted the possibility of Russia also eventually becoming a member.

When Putin, in clear violation of the Budapest Memorandum, overtook Crimea he acted precisely as my friends had suggested, something that they were of course quick to point out. Yet, like always when it comes to history, we must also consider what would have been possible had we pursued more idealistic policies in the past. Instead, the cynics and the military realists had their way and now we (not to mention the people of eastern Ukraine) are paying the price for our complacency and short-sightedness.

Yet, just like in the past, the appropriate solution is not sanctions or isolation which would only feed into Russia’s sense of eternal victimhood. Instead, it is more important than ever to show the Russian people that we in Europe can look beyond their autocratic leaders. A simple and highly symbolic way of doing this would be to unilaterally end the Schengen visa requirement for Russian citizens.



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