Ukraine war: Europe turning back fleeing Russians only plays into Putin’s hands
- Treating all Russians as part of Putin’s ambitions and applying collective punishment is a mistake by the West that could easily backfire
- Russians fighting to conserve the values of democracy and freedom deserve the West’s support instead of its ire
Russia bridges Europe with Asia, and despite the criss-crossing of so many cultures it has maintained its own identity, culture, religion and language. In the last 600 years, it has borne the brunt of exclusion from Europe and self-imposed its isolation, ending with the Iron Curtain’s fall in 1989.
Former Warsaw Pact countries rushed to join the West when they broke free from communism. The Russian Federation, on the other hand, was both attracted and repulsed at the thought of integrating itself into another faction, particularly one against which it had always competed.
The response from Europe, however, cannot be a complete ban on issuing visas to Russians as it is an emotive response and a counterintuitive move. In light of the current circumstances, such a move would play right into Putin’s hands, affecting not only ordinary citizens transiting, travelling or conducting business but also journalists, academics and activists.
If the foundations of the Kremlin were ever to shake, such members of Russia’s civil society would be vital in influencing public opinion and laying the groundwork for an eventual overthrow of the regime.
Russia needs to be viewed through its history as an independent nation with its own values, ambitions and designs rather than through a Western lens. Putin has called the collapse of the Soviet Union a genuine tragedy and will try to muster feelings of nostalgia in restoring Russia’s “greatness”.
But no matter how dire the situation, Russians fighting to conserve the values of democracy and freedom do not deserve to bear the brunt of collective punishment. They serve as a window to persuade ordinary Russians to stop supporting the war against Ukraine.
Sameed Basha is a defence and political analyst with a master’s degree in international relations from Deakin University, Australia