Volodymyr Zelenskyy wants Western nations to ban Russians from entering. Are countries able to do this?
The West imposed sanction after sanction on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, but it did not deter Vladimir Putin or stop the destruction of entire cities.
As the death toll from the conflict continues to rise and hundreds of thousands of people remain displaced from their homes, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has issued a new demand to countries that say they support an end to the war.
Zelenskyy called on Western countries to ban Russian citizens from entering their country, saying Russians should “live in their own world until they change their philosophy”.
Here’s what we know about his request to Ukrainian allies.
What does Volodymyr Zelensky want?
He asks Western nations to essentially ban Russians from entering their country in the hope that this will inspire the Russian people to push back against Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Ukraine’s president told the Washington Post earlier this week that closing borders to Russians was the “most important” sanction countries could impose.
“Then they will understand. They will say: ‘This [war] has nothing to do with us. The whole population can’t be held responsible, can it? It’s possible,” he told the US publication.
“The people chose this government and they are not fighting it, not arguing with it, not shouting at it.
“Don’t you [Russians] do you want this isolation? You’re telling the whole world to live by your rules. So go live there. This is the only way to influence Putin.”
Does anyone support it?
Estonia has announced that it will prevent most Russians from entering the country on visas issued by Estonian authorities from next week.
Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu said in a statement that visas would no longer be issued to Russians for work or study, with some exceptions.
“We have seen a huge increase in the number of Russian citizens entering or passing through Estonia,” the statement said.
“The ability for them to travel to Estonia, or other parts of Europe via Estonia, en masse is not in line with the principles of the sanctions we have imposed.”
It comes after Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas earlier this week urged his counterparts to “stop issuing tourist visas” to Russians.
“Visiting Europe is a privilege, not a human right,” she said. said in a social media post.
“It’s time to end tourism from Russia now.”
Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin told Yle she also wants tourism from Russia to be restricted.
“It is not fair that at the same time that Russia is waging an aggressive and brutal war of aggression in Europe, Russians can lead normal lives, travel to Europe, be tourists,” she said. to the Finnish publication.
But Ms Marin also told Yle that there were ongoing discussions among governments about the legality of such a ban.
Visiting researcher at the ANU Center for European Studies, Kyle Wilson said the support from the Finnish and Estonian governments was remarkable, but he might not go further.
“Ukraine is not alone in this case: two other countries that feel threatened by Putin’s Russia stand together,” he said.
“Such a decision by the Finns would affect many Russians.
“But other EU members seem to be showing signs of backing down on sanctions against Russia.”
Can they actually ban tourists?
Yes. Latvia has also already taken a step in this direction.
Latvian Embassy in Russia announced last week that it was indefinitely suspending the approval of visa applications from Russian citizens, except for a relative’s funeral – thus cutting off all Russians wishing to enter for holidays, leisure or business.
The Latvian government this week declared Russia a “state sponsor of terrorism” and urged other countries to do the same, accusing Moscow of using “suffering and intimidation as tools in its attempts to demoralize the Ukrainian people and the armed forces to paralyze the functioning of the state”.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called the statement “animal xenophobia”.
Wilson, a former diplomat and intelligence analyst, said nationals of countries including North Korea, Israel and Cuba have faced similar bans from some other countries.
“Under international law, states have the right to refuse entry. As John Howard once famously said, ‘We will decide who comes to this country,’ he says.
“Raise doubts about the possible illegality of such an action seems strange, given that Russia has flouted the most fundamental principles of international law and the Charter of the United Nations by its invasion of another country.
“In these circumstances, questioning the ‘legality’ of the Russian tourist ban seems to miss the big tragic picture.”
How did Russia react?
Unsurprisingly, the Kremlin isn’t a big fan of the idea.
Spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed Zelenskyy’s appeals shortly after the Washington Post interview was published.
“Any attempt to isolate Russia or the Russians is a dead-end process,” he told reporters.
The issue came just days after Peskov accused Ukrainian negotiators of being “off the radar” – with both sides blaming each other for the lack of progress for some time.
“As for a meeting between Presidents Putin and Zelensky, it is only possible after all the homework has been done by the delegations,” Peskov told reporters on Monday.
“This is missing, so there are no necessary prerequisites for the meeting.”