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#12. Who won't come to Europe?

Updated: Oct 9, 2022

Post-release #12 September 24, 2022

Elena Koneva


“Let them (Russians) live in their own world until they change their philosophy”

The Image of Russians and the Reality

The topic of banning Russian citizens from traveling to Europe is a concrete and fairly local one. It reflects a more general problem, which in the West, especially in Europe and even more so in Ukraine, is apparently being solved spontaneously, in a reactive or opportunistic response to emerging stimuli.

The problem is the virtual absence of a strategy for relations with Russian citizens in the context of the war and post-war with Ukraine. The indiscriminate understanding of the whole of Russia as an enemy leads to a simplified perception and indistinction of ideologically different camps within Russian society, and hence the pragmatically significant underestimation of a significant share of Russians as a progressive anti-war and post-war resource.

To a certain extent, this is related to the dominant presence of Russian state pollsters, which are an integral part of the propaganda machine, in the information space.

Systematic and coordinated propaganda creates a sense of rallying support for the war among 75-80% of Russians. This picture is false.

In reality, as measured by independent researchers, the proportion of Russian citizens who consciously support the war is only about 40% as of early August 2022. Approximately the same proportion of people do not support the war to varying degrees

Who has left?

According to the "Evacuation 2022" survey and the findings of other projects related to the war-related wave of emigration, the main reasons for departures – often sudden and unplanned – were disagreement with the government's actions, the moral impossibility of living in an aggressor country, and fear of repressions.

Hundreds of thousands of young people, professionals, and their children are the very generation among whom overall support for the war is three to four times lower than among older generations.

There is media and direct access to these people. Many of them are engaged not only in anti-war activities in their area of professional expertise but also in volunteer work.

Political scientists, political activists, journalists, and whole teams of independent media outlets have left the country. They continue their work from Georgia, Latvia, and the Czech Republic.

The influence of state-run Russian media propaganda is waning but remains a strong factor. In this context, an alternative narrative remains a battlefield in the war for public opinion. And this fight is being waged by Russian media professionals, who have moved abroad to preserve the freedom to speak.

The first wave of war-related emigration did not leave in pursuit of luxury. Projectively, one can see that the moral state of people who are potential migrants, because of the military actions in Ukraine, is radically different from the rest of the Russians.

The second wave, in September, will be even more dramatic.

Table 1. Sentiments of emigration-oriented people. Chronicles. May 2022.
Table 1. Sentiments of emigration-oriented people. Chronicles. May 2022.
Table 1. Sentiments of emigration-oriented people. Chronicles. May 2022.

The Resistance in Russia

Within Russia, activists' dedicated work continues: counterpropaganda through all available channels, anti-war rallies and solitary pickets, advocacy for conscripts and contract soldiers, a whole network of volunteers helping Ukrainian refugees, work with the parents of military personnel, confidential financing of anti-war activity, active sabotage and sabotage attacks...

The front line is not solely on Ukrainian soil. A million National Guardsmen are catching the "fifth column", instead of fighting in Ukraine. The front line is everywhere: in Moscow, in Buryatia, in Western information space. A sound civilian communications strategy in these circumstances is also a military tool.

Russians are a Resource for Ukraine

Zelenskyy is often called the new spiritual leader of the free world. He speaks of Ukraine as part of Europe. Europe is characterized in particular by such spiritual values as tolerance and the fight against prejudice. Every person matters, regardless of their nationality or religion. Every person who understands that a treacherous war is underway is important; every person who sympathizes with Ukraine anywhere in the world, and even more so in Russia, is important.

It is precisely now, under the stress of war, that the code and archetype of the future Ukraine are being established. If the thesis of "collective punishment" of the Russians is developed, there is a strong possibility that in the minds of ordinary Ukrainians some inverted mindsets of the same kind as those that drive the aggressors today may take hold, considering that many Russians (in their distorted perception) continue today to wage holy war against Fascism.

Possible reasons for communicating with anti-war minded Russians include not only the goodwill of Ukraine and Europe's humanitarian mission, but also trivial pragmatism.

In a war, all available resources must be deployed. Those Russian citizens who are against the war - whether they have stayed or left, CEOs, oligarchs, wealthy people, civil rights activists, media people, even the military - constitute an audience with whom direct constructive communication is possible. These people are the forefront of counter-propaganda, anti-war resistance, and labor and material assistance to Ukraine. Tomorrow they will be the backbone of postwar Russia's statehood and of safe coexistence with it.

Attitudes toward Russians as a Test of European Values

It is easier to create an image of the enemy represented by an entire nation, as it is an easier way to consolidate the mass consciousness. Genocide and sadism on the part of the Russian military create a de facto basis for the dehumanization of the Russians' image: all Russians bear death and must be punished. But extrapolating responsibility to an entire nation would inevitably come into conflict with the European charters.

Western countries, in all solidarity with Ukraine, have their own views on cooperation with reasonable Russians; visa filters will become more complicated, but European authorities are unlikely to sweep their countries clean of Russians and block the possibility of their arrival.

A differentiated European policy toward different Russians is an important element in the formation of an anti-war, anti-Kremlin international movement in which Russians must be present. The adoption of such a doctrine requires an understanding of the structure of Russian society.

Let's take the issue of Schengen visas as an example.

The Scope of the Visa Ban

How many citizens have a Schengen visa or plan to apply for one?

Who can come to European countries in the coming months?

According to a nationwide representative survey conducted by ExtremeScan on August 23-27, 27% of Russians have an international passport, which is consistent with other surveys and official statistics.

In the last 1-2 years, 12% of Russians have traveled across (any) border.

Schengen visas were obtained/used in the last two years by 16% of international passport holders.

Schengen visas received or used in the last 2 years have the following status:

46% had expired by the time of the survey; 36% will expire within a year; 12% will be valid for a longer period of time.

In other words: only 2% of the adult population have a valid Schengen visa, 75% of these visas will expire in less than a year.


An upper estimate of the size of the Schengen visa holders group: about a million people with an unexpired visa and another 400,000 potentially planning to apply for one; a total of 1.3% of the total population, or 1.4 million people.
Table 2. Age and political profile of Schengenians. ExtremeScan. "Schengen". August 2022.
Table 2. Age and political profile of Schengenians. ExtremeScan. "Schengen". August 2022.
Table 2. Age and political profile of Schengenians. ExtremeScan. "Schengen". August 2022.

In terms of the structure of the most recent trips, the distribution is as follows:

  • 9% tourism, including visits to loved ones

  • 6% work

  • 3% medical treatment

  • 1% study.

26% of all respondents changed their plans to travel abroad as a result of hostilities in Ukraine; among the Schengenians such respondents amount to 47%.

So who are these Russians that a number of European countries do not want to let in?

Two-thirds of Schengenians are under the age of 40; Schengenians are more educated than the general population, they are 3.5 times more financially well-off. They are 2.5 times more likely to use a VPN, which means they perceive information beyond the limits set by the censored media. One-third of them lost their jobs and stopped communicating with their loved ones because of the conflict over the military actions in Ukraine.

No wonder there are 1.5 times as many people among Schengenians who do not support the "special operation" as there are in the overall population. Most of them believe that the military operation should be stopped and the peace talks should begin (vs. 33% of the total population).

63% (against 40% for all respondents) consider military actions and their consequences to be crucial events in their lives. The war frustrates them, and at the same time half of the Schengenians believe that there is no opportunity to freely express one' views in Russia.

Table 3. Schengenians. Attitudes toward sanctions and freedom of speech. ExtremeScan. "Schengen". August 2022.
Table 3. Schengenians. Attitudes toward sanctions and freedom of speech. ExtremeScan. "Schengen". August 2022.
Table 3. Schengenians. Attitudes toward sanctions and freedom of speech. ExtremeScan. "Schengen". August 2022.

62% of Schengenians will have to change their plans because of increasing difficulties in obtaining Schengen visas. This is five times higher than in the country's population as a whole.

80% of Schengeners have close relatives and friends living in the Schengen countries, and more than a third of their trips over the past 2 years were to visit their loved ones.

Table 4. Schengenians. Problems. ExtremeScan. "Schengen". August 2022
Table 4. Schengenians. Problems. ExtremeScan. "Schengen". August 2022
Table 4. Schengenians. Problems. ExtremeScan. "Schengen". August 2022

The majority of Russian citizens support the retention of the possibility of travel to European countries; only 14% believe that in the current circumstances Russian citizens should be banned from traveling there. Among Schengenians there are 4% respondents with such a view, which is not surprising.

Why are Russians going to Europe in 2022?

Travel data for the first half of 2022 allows us to model Russians' motivation for travel.

Rosstat (Federal State Statistics Service) published data on the departure of Russians abroad in the first half of 2022. A total of 8.5 million people left the country with different purposes, which is 25% more than from January to June 2021 when about 6.8 million Russians crossed the border to leave. Obviously, this growth is partly due to the removal of COVID-19 restrictions.

Over six months, 5 million Russians crossed the border for private purposes, 2.3 million for tourism, and 189,000 for business.

The statistics breakdown by country clearly show that the largest share of this growth of two million is due to the departure from Russia. The lower estimates of the number of Russians who left (permanently) range between 300,000 and 400,000.

Many moved to border countries that could be reached by land transport.

“In the first six months of 2022 the number of Russians' arrivals decreased from 25% to 50% compared with 2021 in Italy, Spain, Germany, Netherlands, France, Cyprus, Greece, Switzerland, UK, Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Belgium, Sweden, and to an even greater extent - in Malta, Montenegro, Iceland, Albania. These are all conventional tourist destinations.

A significant increase in the number of Russians' arrivals in the first six months of 2022 compared with the corresponding period of 2021 was recorded in Finland, Estonia (1.5-3 times), as well as in neighboring Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.”

Obviously, a significant share of the travel was due to leaving the country.

For various reasons, not everyone who wanted to leave then or wanted to leave later was able to leave. As Lyubov Borusyak's in-depth interviews show, the motivations of the Russians who left and those who stayed are virtually indistinguishable. Those who stayed were driven by a variety of personal circumstances; many felt it was important to continue doing their work (teachers, educators, NPO members) in order to maintain at least some kind of humanism in society. Not all, but many left to continue their humanistic work. In late March, 6.7% of respondents said that someone close to them or someone they knew had emigrated because of the "special operation". 10% expressed their willingness to emigrate.

In the May wave, 6% of respondents confirmed the departure of their relatives and acquaintances. It is difficult to base numerical projections on these data, but it is clear that many Russian citizens have already left and many more will continue to leave.

Amid heated discussions that it would be fair to close the European borders to Russians, we heard humane promises to let visitors in for medical treatment and other "valid" reasons, as well as recommendations to apply for political asylum for those threatened by the Russian state. We will refrain from commenting on the appropriateness of such recommendations.

Deceptive Nature of the Tourism Ban

Marie Dumoulin, the director of the Wider Europe program at the European Council on Foreign Relations, wrote:

“There is also some self-delusion in the argument that a ban would cover only so-called tourist visas. Visas are categorised by the duration of travellers’ stay: either up to 90 days or more than this. The reason for the stay – such as tourism, family visits, or business – only determines the type of documents that should accompany the application.

So, a ban on tourist visas would actually mean a ban on either any form of travel to the EU for less than 90 days or on applications based on a hotel booking, which is the fastest way to apply for a visa.

It would become difficult for all Russian nationals – including civil society activists, journalists, and artists – to apply for a visa without established contacts in EU countries and a tedious bureaucratic process involving documents for a non-tourist visa. Humanitarian visas, often presented as an alternative that these people could use, are only available in a small number of EU member states. And it is unlikely that a Russian national who received a humanitarian visa could then safely travel back to Russia. Therefore, a ban on tourist visas for Russian nationals would force these people to choose between unwanted exile or an unsafe return to Russia.”

Political PR

The vociferous campaign in Europe, Ukraine and Russia, related to local, in comparison to the scale of the war, measures to restrict travel of Russian citizens to Europe, sounds like a fair retribution, like a price for the Ukrainians' suffering, however, in fact, it is a way for certain European leaders to demonstrate their resolute fight against the aggressor.

In fact, it looks more like a PR ritual, substituting the actually necessary painstaking work of implementing targeted sanctions aimed not at thousands but at hundreds of thousands of members of the political, administrative, power structure, business elite and the management of the state, natural resources, and media companies.

Most of the debates revolve around the repulsive image: "Europeans are tired of seeing the very rich Russians flaunting their wealth, having a great time, while their country is fighting an aggressive war in Ukraine." According to various estimates, there are between 100,000 and 200,000 rich people in Russia; let's assume, for example, that half of them are pro-war.

When a strategy for communication with an entire nation is rationalized by the behavior of a tiny fraction of its citizens, it appears unsound.

The fight against the "privilege of visiting Europe" will affect approximately 0.5-1% of the Russian population, a large part of this group being anti-war, opposition-minded citizens, whose anti-war activism poses personal risks to them during their stay in Russia

Is the campaign to ban Russians from Europe effective?

Yes, it is effective - to bolster a popular image of the enemy.

In Finland, 58% of the population opposes issuing (tourist) visas to Russian citizens, according to a recent survey. The percentage of European citizens who perceive all Russians as enemies is growing.

It is also effective for Russian propaganda – a simply magnificent "Russophobic" gift – and it is actively used by it to enlighten citizens as to Europe's true attitude toward Russians.

It is also effective for strengthening the defense capability of the Russian Federation: deserters and evaders will not be able to get through to European countries, and such attempts will certainly be made after the announcement of mobilization among reserve servicemen.

“This is not our war!”

The primary mobilization resource is young men. Undoubtedly, experience of protest activity would be an important prerequisite for receiving call-up papers. Throughout the seven months of research, young respondents showed very different rates of support for the "special operation": 37% "for" and 40% "against" in the under-40 group (in the even younger group of 18-25-year-olds, the ratio is 18% "for" versus 49% opposed to the war). 69% do not want to take part in the military actions, only 15% said they were ready (the survey was conducted before the announcement of mobilization). Of course, it is impossible to sort out the "right" tourists from the "wrong" ones at the border, but there is a good chance that mobilization will open everyone's eyes. So, does this mean that these tourists belong in a detention center, where they will go after protesting or evading mobilization, or in the fields of fratricidal war?

“Do you want us to disappear?”

To conclude, and with great gratitude, stepping back from the genre of research release, I would like to quote from Dmitry Vilensky's address to his Ukrainian colleague Nikita Kadan, who after many years of cooperation refused to participate in a common panel with him and his colleague, who have Russian and Belarusian passports. This is the quintessence of our presentiment of the distortion of people's consciousness under the influence of this war.

“Until now, I have kept the faith that, like the fight against fascism, the fight against Putinism requires international solidarity which does not silence any voice, even if it comes from inside Russian context, or Iranian situation, or Armenian.

And I hoped that this value we need to defend together, no matter what country’s passport we have in our pocket and we cannot compete, who is more hurt and who is more victimized.

I try to hear your gesture, your silence, your refusal.

Your colleague from Kyiv Olexii Kuchanskyi wrote important words in early April 2022.:

<...> “It is absolutely inconceivable, but it seems to be the time when binary opposition is useful. See the difference, neither Russians—Ukrainians nor Russia—NATO. The opposing sides are Putinism, that that kills civilians and the environment in order to kill more, — and a transnational network of those, who believe in futures, which are alternatives to this creepy destructive alienated war technology.” <...>

I have learned that we should have zero tolerance towards fascism, but now it has become very easy to declare anyone else as fascist, to blame someone in wrong belongingness, to demand collective responsibility and then empty any space of dialogue.

Do I have the right to say that I am ready to talk to you?

What should I do to talk to you?

How could I carry the burden of responsibility, that you would consider appropriate to your pain?

How can I know about it, if the space of communication is cut off?

What should happen to both of us to make us talk again?

Once upon a time this summer, in our commune, we read a call by Ukrainian President Zelensky demanding that all Russians should be expelled from abroad, regardless of their political position, then they could take part in an armed struggle inside the country and overthrow Putin. Or, frankly say they must be just sent back for collective punishment because they are impotent to make any revolt.

I am not ready to discuss with you now if this call was reasonable or not (although some European countries took it quite literally), but it was formulated in a rather fairy-tale language.

“let them (Russians) live in their own world until they change their philosophy.”

It seemed to us that this appeal was addressed to us personally, as well as your refusal to speak here. And we constantly returned to it — yes, we have been living in our own world, and for us it meant that we are building and growing our own space free from dehumanization, militaristic and patriotic frenzy, in solidarity with comrades around and far from us, in solidarity with the struggle of the people from Ukraine, a space founded on empathy and care.

Should we change our philosophy?

Or should we stay in resilience to what’s going on around us?

We do not know, but the formation of this space was important for us

and may be the only way to resist Putinism.

Do you need my/our silence?

Do you want me/us to disappear?"


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