EU should choose wisely when it comes to Russian tourists

EU should choose wisely when it comes to Russian tourists

Europe’s record summer heat is mirrored in the EU in heated debates, such as whether or not bloc member states should ban Russian tourists. A travel ban was discussed by EU foreign ministers at an informal meeting in Prague this week. Currently, member states are divided in their positions, with Germany and France strongly opposed, while Estonia, Latvia, Finland, Norway, Poland and Czechia support an entry ban for Russian tourists. Estonia has already imposed strict restrictions on Russians, no longer issuing them Schengen visas, while also planning to no longer allow entry to Russians with Schengen visas issued by other countries. Similarly, Latvia stopped issuing entry visas to Russians and suspended a cross-border agreement with Russia.

The argument for the ban follows Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s approach: “Let them live in their own world until they change their philosophy.” He added: “It’s the only way to influence (Russian President Vladimir) Putin.”

However, this position does not seem to have influenced either Putin or his citizens. According to the latest polls from the Levada Center, an independent polling agency in Moscow, more than three-quarters of Russians continue to support Moscow’s “special military operation” in Ukraine, with only 18% opposed. And Putin’s approval rating is actually on the rise. In July 2021, 64% approved of the president’s actions; at the start of the “operation” in February, his support was 71%; and by July the number had risen to 83%.

On the issue of banning Russians from visiting Europe, the Washington Post quoted an unnamed EU diplomat as saying, “You risk making the EU the bad guy in the eyes of Russian citizens who may not support be not the regime or the war. “There is perhaps some wisdom in these words, as Russian approval of Kremlin actions may be linked to Western responses, such as the introduction of economic sanctions, the closure of airspace and targeted sanctions for 1,200 people.

The “wiser” approach taken by Germany and France includes human rights concerns, as well as finding solutions for groups such as students, family members and scientists. In other words, this approach shows a concern for the main drivers of the effectiveness of EU soft power, including the key principles of democracy, human rights and equality, which appeal many Russians.

The “normative power of the EU”, introduced by Ian Manners, is inspired by the “civil power” of François Duchene and is in line with Joseph Nye’s concept of soft power. Normative power emphasizes “European ideological influence on other members in international relations”, as Manners explained in 2002. Understanding of this influence can arguably be expanded further, as citizens of some Non-EU states prefer to travel to Europe to feel such ideological influence.

The key mechanism for gaining influence by winning hearts and minds could be lost through a policy of banning Russians.

Dr. Diana Galeeva

Moreover, any lack of EU travel could prevent the possibility of winning hearts and minds through the influence of European history, culture or architecture, with an inability to see the works of Michelangelo, Botticelli or Leonardo da Vinci, like the Mona Lisa in the Louvre in Paris, perhaps diminishing the Russians’ appreciation of European soft power. In other words, the key mechanism for gaining influence by winning hearts and minds could be lost by a policy of banning Russians.

The discussion took the form of a more informal meeting this week, but it is expected that the issue will be discussed further in more formal meetings. It is reasonable to believe that EU Member States will follow the “wiser” scenario on this issue by applying some potential trade-offs. One of them could be the total suspension of a visa facilitation agreement concluded in 2007 with Russia. This would make obtaining visas more expensive and more difficult, but would still offer Russians the possibility of receiving tourist visas. In this case, those who are already influenced by the soft power of Europe — its values, culture and history — will continue to be able to access their travel destinations, despite additional difficulties.

For other Russians, another way to avoid complications would be to look to other destinations, including exploring the wider Middle East and North Africa region. Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt are already among the favorite destinations for Russian tourists. In addition, new programs are expanding tourism opportunities and establishing unique new destinations, such as NEOM and AlUla in Saudi Arabia or the cultural and historical attractions of North Africa.

Interestingly, the tourist flow to Morocco increased in the 2000s, no doubt due to the well-known Brazilian telenovela “O Clone” (The Clone), which is partly set in the North African country. Today, due to geopolitical pressures, the MENA region could be even more attractive to Russians thanks to the wealth it can offer.

At the same time, this region could perhaps consider turning to Russia, with its population of 144 million, by offering its citizens better and more attractive offers. However, geopolitical challenges also arise here, including great power competition, which feeds into the ongoing debate in international relations: who should take priority, national interests or dedication to long-term traditional alignment? term ?

  • Dr. Diana Galeeva was Visiting Scholar at St. Antony’s College, University of Oxford (2019-2022). She is the author of two books: “Qatar: The Practice of Rented Power” (Routledge, 2022) and “Russia and the GCC: The Case of Tatarstan’s Paradiplomacy” (IB Tauris/Bloomsbury, 2023). She is also co-editor of the collection “Post-Brexit Europe and UK: Policy Challenges Towards Iran and the GCC States” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2021). Twitter: @diana_galeeva

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