Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky said earlier in an interview with the Washington Post that Western countries should ban entry to all Russians. Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, in turn, called on EU countries to ban the issuance of tourist visas to Russian nationals. According to her, visiting Europe is a privilege and not a human right. The Finnish Foreign Ministry stated that the country could introduce restrictions if a large number of Russians sought to travel to other European countries using visas issued by Finland.


I found that perplexing, because banning all Russian visas would help Russia as it would force Russia into staying in Russia and help out Russia economically and militarily. So what does Ukraine have to gain from this if such a move would be adopted by Western countries? I am trying to think of all the pros and cons for Ukraine, and I can't think of any pros.

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    I wouldn't exactly quote Russian government news agencies if I were trying to direct people to reliable sources.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Aug 13, 2022 at 22:35
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    @RogerVadim Probably there is a connection between the state and the people of the state, even in Russia. So both. Commented Aug 14, 2022 at 10:24
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    @JonathanReez - I don't think so. An article is more than a single quote, and news source is more than a single article. People should use sources that direct readers to reliable websites, not propaganda outlets.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Aug 14, 2022 at 17:38
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    @Obie2.0 ah, the good old “misinformation” shtick. I’d say the readers of this website are smart enough to figure out which sources are reliable in which contexts. Unfortunately even NPR is extremely biased in some contexts these days. Commented Aug 14, 2022 at 18:14
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    I would not assume that forcing Russians to stay in Russia does help Russia out economically. If you're a Russian exporter or influence agent it's harder to do business when you can't go visit people. It'd also be likely to cut into remittances (Russians working abroad and sending money back to family etc.) which have been worth about two billion US dollars annually in recent years.
    – G_B
    Commented Aug 15, 2022 at 3:16

8 Answers 8


Currently the sanctions have much more effect on isolated poor regions and less effect on the more affluent ones.

The more affluent regions exercise a strategy of sanction avoidance known as parallel imports. This allows them to be less inconvenienced by the sanctions while paying a slight premium for imported luxury goods.

The theory is that a tourist visa ban would affect the more affluent communities, which have more clout and influence on the government.

Because studying abroad is seen as a form of extreme privilege in the Russian Federation, a student visa ban is similarly seen a sanction on luxury goods. Cutting off access to this (thought to be) luxury good among the most privileged Russian elites would also be in line with the intent of the sanctions.

If true, it would be an effective additional sanction measure.

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    President Zelinsky was talking about a total ban, not just access to education and tourism. Could you expand the answer, addressing how banning Russian immigrants and asylum seekers would help?
    – William K
    Commented Aug 14, 2022 at 9:02
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    Because studying abroad is seen as a form of extreme privilege in the Russian Federation - this statement needs to be supported by statistics on how many Russians studying abroad come from privileged background. I suspect that the numbers are no different from those for their Chinese or Indian counterparts.
    – Morisco
    Commented Aug 14, 2022 at 9:49
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    Currently the sanctions have much more effect on isolated poor regions and less effect on the more affluent ones. This needs some sourcing. Isolated and poor regions bear the brunt of military casualties. But sanctions impact? When Apple exits Russia it somehow affects poor regions more? Where there more Mc Donalds locations in poor regions rather than affluent urban centers? Doesn't compute, please source. Parallel imports is generic, does it apply here? Commented Aug 14, 2022 at 15:51
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    Correction, the answer doesn't claim as such that studying abroad is an extreme privilege in Russia, but that it is seen as such by those proposing the sanctions. The answer does not claim this view is accurate or wrong, but could still be improved by providing a source that this point of view is held by proponents of sanctions targeting student visas.
    – gerrit
    Commented Aug 15, 2022 at 9:42
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    Yes, planes fly now. Who can afford them, can basically fly to Europe and buy whatever they want.
    – Stančikas
    Commented Aug 15, 2022 at 14:17

This is because of the opinion that majority of the Russian citizens are not willing to provide any notable opposition to the invasion. The New York Times writes that president Vladimir V. Putin’s approval ratings have reached levels unseen in years. As a result, these citizens are seen as responsible for the actions of their democratically elected government. As with any other punishment, the idea behind is to cause the said "convict" to think once more and longer. That may or may not work as expected.

It is somewhat questionable if the opposition is really not notable or opinion polls published by Russian propaganda are trustworthy even if they fairly represent that the people responded when asked. The collateral damage is recognized even by Volodymyr Zelensky himself who makes statements that citizens seeking political refuge for the reason should retain the possibilities to do so. Novaya Gazeta Europe has a huge article that gives many arguments against the proposal, some questionable but not all. It also has the good explanation for the reasoning behind: citizens of Russian Federation are seen as fully responsible for the actions of their country. Germans have seen the comparable view to them in the past.

This is not very exactly "racism" because it is not by the color shade of the skin. While discrimination by the ethnic origin is seen as unacceptable in Europe, discrimination by the citizenship is actually very widespread. Foreign nationals are ranked by their passports depending on bilateral agreements or sharing some union with the country in question. In media supporting the restrictions, the right to enter the European Union is seen as a privilege that can be taken away without violating fundamental human rights. The claim Дальше начнем высылать всех, кто говорит по-русски? (then we will repress all speaking Russian) as seen in Novaya Gazeta is a total nonsense, as the older half of the population at least in Baltic states is still fluent in this language.

Fligts between Moscow and Europe are now operating again. For people who can afford them, Visa ban would matter a lot.

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    statista.com/statistics/896181/putin-approval-rating-russia supports this as well. Look at the blip up since February. With that level of support, the average member of the public is heavily likely to be complicit in this war, despite valid concerns about the transparency of opinion polls in the country at this point. Commented Aug 14, 2022 at 15:55
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    "President Vladimir V. Putin’s approval ratings have reached levels unseen in years" - I don't think this data is any more reliable than president Kim Jong Un's approval rating would be. The only agencies truly capable of measuring this are all Russians, or stationed in Russia, therefore cannot be free from the autocracy's will. Even if a completely independent measurement would be carried out, people would be afraid to express their rejection of Putin. This is a statistic one can only measure in a democratic system, which Russia is not.
    – Neinstein
    Commented Aug 15, 2022 at 14:27
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    @Neinstein it is very easy to find videos of Russians interviewing Russians with a large amount of enthusiastic support for Putin, the war, etc. These are often impromptu, man-on-the-street interviews that would be wasteful to set up as propaganda. While I agree that young people are probably much more opposed to Putin than the older generation, I would not be the least bit surprised if Putin really enjoys, say, 70%+ approval. Commented Aug 15, 2022 at 16:29
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    @LawnmowerMan I'm not sure videos like that prove much, for each enthusiastic interview how many where there where the interviewer was brushed off? It's impossible to know. Commented Aug 15, 2022 at 19:32
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    @HK-51 Vietnam is far from a one-off; we can look at the February Revolution in Russia, and the fall from power of Mussolini in 1943. During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln was worried he'd lose the 1864 election to the Democrats calling for peace. Long, bloody, unproductive wars tend not to be well loved by the populace.
    – prosfilaes
    Commented Aug 15, 2022 at 19:52

I can't find a full transcript, but the part about "whichever kind" was about opposition, not about ethnicity, as WaPo contextualized it.

Some critics have argued that banning all Russians would unfairly impact those who have left their country because they disagree with President Vladimir Putin’s government and his decision to attack Ukraine.

Zelensky said such distinctions don’t matter: “Whichever kind of Russian … make them go to Russia.”

“They’ll understand then,” he said. “They’ll say, ‘This [war] has nothing to do with us. The whole population can’t be held responsible, can it?’ It can. The population picked this government and they’re not fighting it, not arguing with it, not shouting at it.”

“Don’t you want this isolation?” Zelensky added, speaking as if he were addressing Russians directly. “You’re telling the whole world that it must live by your rules. Then go and live there. This is the only way to influence Putin.”

Zelenskyy is clearly upset that Russians (inside Russia) aren't protesting more. He might have a point in the sense that after massive crackdowns in March, protests in Russia are rather muted nowadays. If you want my 2 cents stating the obvious, the West is rather unlikely to give up its asylum policies for opponents who do flee. On the other hand, tourist visas for run-of-the-mill Russian citizens could be more open for Western sanctions. Whether that would be effective in ratcheting up any sort of pressure on Putin... remains to be seen.

For what's worth it, a few days later, in another interview

Zelensky said his proposal did not apply to Russians who needed help for risking their freedom or their lives by resisting Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin’s policies.

So he did seem to realize what I said in my previous para.

It seems a bunch of Eastern European countries (Poland, Latvia, Estonia, the Czech Republic) have indeed stopped issuing tourist visas to Russians. (Confusingly, Finland has issued a lot of tourists visas to Russians recently, but they are also calling for a EU-wide restriction.) On the other hand, Germany is strongly opposed to that measure, and since Schengen visas are valid alongside the whole EU border that has created frictions between said Eastern countries, which are the remaining [direct] entry points for Russians into Schengen, since air travel from Russia was shut down. (That discussion leaves aside more circuitous routes through Turkey, Armenia, or Georgia, etc.) The ideas expressed by Zelensky and some Eastern European capitals (but rejected in Berlin) also find echoes in the US right-wing press, should anyone care. The US State department however has rejected imposing visa restriction on Russians. (Both the US and Germany have also made some attempts to attract the recent outflow of skilled specialists from Russia by tweaking some professional visas.) Russia's government position(s) are somewhat more complicated. They have on one hand ridiculed the visa ban measures as doomed to fail, but on the other hand they also issued travel advisories against going to the UK, for example. Also, the functioning of the US embassy in Russia is severely limited (since last October, seemingly due to disagreements with Russia about local staffing) so for most US visas Russians apparently have to travel to third countries, like the EU ones.

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    @RogerVadim: dunno. Back then few could actually flee, so the receiving policies could be made quite magnanimously liberal. If the US nowadays enacted something like the Refugee Relief Act from those days, it would be fairly surprising to me. In any case, even then when such acts were passed, there were caps on the numbers the US would receive. Commented Aug 14, 2022 at 11:04
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    @RogerVadim: according to one piece the US apparently took some steps to make it easier for Russian scientists to defect (proposal to simplify visas if working in some specific fields, apparently), but it's not exactly detailed what. As for everyone else, not so much. Commented Aug 14, 2022 at 11:35
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    @Fizz There is no need to go that far back in history or to try to make this theoretical. One only need to compare what would happen to a potential asylum seeker from N Korea vs one from China. Surely someone who managed to make their way from N Korea would be be granted an asylum. While anyone from China, requesting an asylum, would probably get much greater scrutiny.
    – wrod
    Commented Aug 14, 2022 at 14:58
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    @RogerVadim: FWTF Germany apparently has taken some steps to give Russian journalists and dissidents long-term visas france24.com/en/europe/… Commented Aug 14, 2022 at 16:09
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    @Obie2.0 It's not just about taking to the streets and making some noise. Right now, most Russians are fairly okay with the government. The more miserable life in Russia gets, the more people will gradually grow unhappy. Protesting becomes much easier when there's more people doing it; when you get millions in the streets there's no longer enough policemen to do anything about it.
    – TooTea
    Commented Aug 15, 2022 at 9:04

Here are a few things that Ukraine may gain by having Western countries ban all Russian visas:

  • Broaden dissatisfaction in Russia with the Putin's regime in general and with the invasion of Ukraine in particular. In particular, broaden it against the more affluent population that actually used to travel to the West (see the answer from wrod).
  • Russians who are already against the war in Ukraine and Putin's regime get to stay in Russia, where their anti-war and anti-government activities will be more effective than abroad.
  • Many of the Russians who travel to the West stage pro-Russian rallies, harass Ukrainian refugees, and take part in other anti-Ukrainian activities. A visa ban deals effectively with this issue.


Russians line up for visas

The goal is to increase the size of the line on the left.
From Ukrainian Memes Forces: https://twitter.com/uamemesforces/status/1559157973599064065

Ukrainian students were attacked by a Russian and a Belarusian in the center of Zurich, Switzerland. The men accused the Ukrainians of oppressing the Russian language, cursed, beat and pushed.

Flash, Twitter, August 15, 2022: https://twitter.com/Flash43191300/status/1559107294612398080

Russian car rally in Berlin

About 900 protesters in a 400-strong motorcade took part in the demonstration on Sunday that culminated in a gathering at the Olympic Stadium [in Berlin, Germany]. Cars were draped in the Russian flag, and one bore the symbol “Z”, meant to signify solidarity with the Russian war. Participants reportedly sang patriotic Russian songs.

Kate Connolly. ‘Motorcade of shame’: outrage over pro-Russia displays at Berlin rally. The Guardian, April 5, 2022: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/apr/05/motorcade-of-shame-outrage-over-pro-russia-displays-at-berlin-rally

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – JJJ
    Commented Aug 17, 2022 at 0:02

Ukraine didn't "have Western countries ban visas to Russians", as you put it. Western countries are considering banning visas to Russian citizens at their own volition for several reasons:

  1. Imagine that you have an acquaintance who routinely abuses his family and claims it's their fault for not obeying to him; he gets into fights with his neighbors who want nothing to do with him and just want to live their lives peacefully, and then he blames them; he steals and cheats and lies all the time. Nevertheless, his kids adore him, because in their eyes being a bully is the way to live. How eager would you invite them?

  2. That acquaintance uses his kids to steal other people's property. He sends a bunch of kids to visit a friend or a relative; the kids stay there for a while; and after a while they say to the hosts: "Hey, there are two of you in this house, and there are three of us, so we are the majority. And because we are now a majority you've got to do what we say. And we hereby decided that this house belongs to us now, and you have to leave. And if you won't leave we'll kill you." And now this acquaintance calls you and asks you to let a few of his kids stay in you living room for just a while. Would you agree?

  3. The kids may be bullies to others, but regarding their abusive father they are obedient sheep. They approve all the terrible things he does. Moreover, they benefit directly from his crimes. They sincerely praise him whenever he would steal or rob somebody. They know that their father would keep 80% of the loot, but those of the kids who are quicker than other siblings would get the remaining 20%. The chance for the crumbs is worth the crime for them. And now they are claiming that they have nothing to do with the crimes.

I trust that anybody either understands the relevance by heart or can google "gulag", "Finland winter war", "annexation of Crimea", "Putin approval ratings", etc.


Here are some more solid references: https://verfassungsblog.de/banning-russians/ (admittedly, the first thing that popped out in Google.)

The step would have mostly propaganda value by hitting hard Russians, while blurring the distinction between Russians (people) and Russia (state, represented by government, responsible for the current policies). It would hit the more pro-western part of the population - those who study abroad or have families living abroad, either since Soviet times or as the result of migration in the last 30 years. It is worth remembering that the Russians who come to work and study in the west are mostly not the children of oligarchs, but rather people seeking better life and opportunities for themselves and their families - i.e., having the same aspirations as the Ukrainian people.

Furthermore, such a move is likely to affect adversely the 30 millions of ethnic Russians who are not Russian citizens (about a quarter of all the Russians.) While not being pro-Russian (especially in Ukraine and other parts if the former Soviet Union) they might feel themselves shunned (think of how Hispanic American voters may favor or dislike a politician depending on the latter's views in the countries their families came from.)

Update: to expand on the last paragraph:
Cuban Americans are American citizens, perhaps even in the second or the third generation. However, they dislike socialist politicians, whom they associate with Castro, while being also sensitive to anything related to immigration policies. This is a fine difference between a government and a people which is obvious to the ethnic group concerned, but is easily lost on others.

  • Discrimination will be by the passport. Ethnic Russian with Japanese citizenship is will not be affected.
    – Stančikas
    Commented Aug 14, 2022 at 7:40
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    @Stančikas well, yes - like Hispanic Americans, who are American citizens, perhaps even in second it third generation. However, they dislike socialist politicians, whom they associate with Castro, while they are also sensitive about immigration policies. This is a difference betweengovernment and people which is obvious to the ethnic group concerned, but is easily lost on others.
    – Morisco
    Commented Aug 14, 2022 at 7:51
  • Maybe not "affect adversely" but rather "alienate"? Technically, it will not "affect" them directly by definition; it may affect them, say, if they have relatives in Russia whom they will not be able to invite. If you are talking about feelings ("being sensitive"), it may go both ways: plenty of Russian non-citizens might support "pushing" Russians, just like many immigrants support anti-immigration policies, etc.
    – Zeus
    Commented Aug 15, 2022 at 1:45
  • @Zeus They can be affected in many ways: directly, if they have families and/or friends in Russia; by people acting out of anti-Russian sentiment; by social pressure on anyone identifying themselves as Russians, and simply by questioning their Russian identity. As an anecdotal example, one can mention children of Russian refugees in the US during the cold war, who stopped speaking their language, because it was unfavorably viewed by their peers.
    – Morisco
    Commented Aug 17, 2022 at 12:06
  • @Roger, I don't think it actually works these days, in the 'West' at least. Those (relatively few) who have 'anti-Russian sentiment' (in the ethnic sense) won't be changed by (yet another) formal measure such as visa ban. The situation was very different during the cold war, esp. before the 1980s: ethnic identity was shunned even in migrant countries such as the US or Australia, and people tried not to speak their language in public. This was not specific to Russians. Yet, this did not imply dislike of the people: just 'melting pot' attiatude. But that's another topic.
    – Zeus
    Commented Aug 17, 2022 at 14:37

I think it is worth understanding President Zelensky's logic to better understand why he wants to ban and deport all "Russians" (I will be using this exact spelling, since it is unclear whether he meant ethnic Russians, or Russian citizens regardless of their ethnicity, including the ethnicities that have been victim of the Soviet and/or Russian regimes or general population in the past).

In the original Washington Post interview, President Zelensky claims that all "Russians" are responsible for the beginning of the war on Ukraine, no matter their political views, personal actions, or other factors ("Whichever kind of Russian … make them go to Russia").

In the same interview, he also claims that all "Russians" picked President Putin as the president. ("The population picked this government.")

Finally, President Zelinsky concludes that if all "Russians" are exiled to Russia and denied access to democratic countries, "they’ll understand then".

President Zelensky did not address or acknowledge the presence of the Russian opposition which is unfortunate, as they are often thought to be the people who have been actively opposing Putin's regime for years at the cost of their freedom and lives.

If you postulate that "Russians" are guilty in starting the war on Ukraine, it should easily follow that "Russians" should be banned from free countries for their complacency in war crimes. Whether or not that presumption is correct, I will leave to the reader's sensibility.

P.S. The same interview had a few factual errors such as the claim that "Russian citizens are still free to apply for a visa to visit the United States" which I will not address as they are beyond the scope of this question.

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    If you want my personal opinion his call is wholly incompatible with Western values nonetheless, but that's besides the point. Zelenskyy does seem to think that forcing the opposition to live in Russia would be beneficial for Ukraine. He says "The whole population can’t be held responsible, can it?’ It can." As we saw from the Navalny case, sending the opposition to Putin's prisons has rather marginal benefits for Ukraine or the West... Zelenskyy indeed seems rather blind to that. Commented Aug 14, 2022 at 10:02
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    OTOH he's clearly more upset that Russians aren't protesting more "The population picked this government and they’re not fighting it, not arguing with it, not shouting at it." He might have a point that after massive crackdowns in March, protests in Russia are rather muted nowadays. Commented Aug 14, 2022 at 10:07
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    @Fizz well, protests in Kherson are also muted now, despite having been quite wide in the beginning. Unarmed people have no power against armed ones.
    – Ruslan
    Commented Aug 14, 2022 at 10:50
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    The interview you mention says "all Russian citizens" so for all confusion if it is about the citizens of Russian Federation or the ethnic Russians probably could be downvoted.
    – Stančikas
    Commented Aug 14, 2022 at 13:23
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    @Salvador Dali Shooting people for being suporting the enemy is not restricted to Russia, Ukraine also shooting people who they think to be iloyal.
    – convert
    Commented Aug 15, 2022 at 11:06

We should divide 2 things: Ukraine and Zelensky, while Ukraine has nothing really to gain from such ban, Zelensky profits a lot, as does every politiсian in Ukraine making anti-Russian statements or being able to harm Russia or Russians gains popularity. This statement by Zelensky was targeting domestic audience in the first place.

As already mentioned in the question itself, instead of spending their money in EU Russians would have to do it in their home country and suport its economy. The influence by the West on the Russians would also decrease. The Russian Federation narative about the evil West which hates all russian and punishes them will be strengthened. So in the end Russian government would only profit from such step from the West. By cuting acces to the West Russian media will become the only sorce of information about the West for the Russians. Also if Russia decides to declare mobilization this visa ban will be also hlpful as nobody will be able to leave the country and escape that mobilization.

All people who have influence or even claimed to have influence on Russian politics are already under sanctions including such visa ban, so such ban for all Russians will not afect them any more.

Even Borel, who is defenetly not a friend of Russia calles it not a good idea as can be read in this Bloomberg article. Since Bloomberg article is paywalled, here an alternative sorce.

  • The negative sides of the ban, seem, indeed, reasonable. Whoever thinks still a good idea, assumes some positive sides of the ban not covered by this answer but that is, is useful to read. Cannot read the Bloomberg article to say more, it is behind the paywall.
    – Stančikas
    Commented Mar 16, 2023 at 13:32
  • @Stančikas Added an alternative sorce to Bloomberg.
    – convert
    Commented Mar 16, 2023 at 13:48

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