25 October 2016

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OpinionVisa rumble

Ukraine is a unique country. We can swing any topic around, whether it is a question of foreign policy or that of national security. Smart people, and not so smart ones, can remain very focused, debating in political talk shows, denouncing some sort of treason and praising success on air. Moreover, it is often not that clear who is a real "patriot", and who is a "Kremlin agent".

Recently, the issue of the introduction of visas for Russian citizens was thrown into the Ukrainian political discourse once again. The reason for this was the arrest in Moscow of Ukrinform journalist Roman Sushchenko. During the heated debate, they even began to shift accents from the very essence of the matter, forgetting about working out concrete steps for the release of the journalist.

The arguments are many, and they all have the right to life. Someone scream that the state of Ukraine has no money for the organization of the necessary infrastructure and expansion of its consulates. Moreover, they keep silent about the fact that the issuance of visas is, in fact, a very profitable business for any country. The Ukrainian visa costs up to $85, and if it comes to multiple entry visas, their cost may be as high as $200! Indeed, the Consular Section at the Embassy of Ukraine in Moscow every month sends hundreds of thousands of dollars to the budget of Ukraine in visa fees and payment of consular services. During business hours, there is always a queue at the entrance to the Consulate of Ukraine. And, if visas for Russians are introduced, the revenue will increase several times, and this will require more personnel, searching for a new office and solving plenty of other organizational issues. Preliminary calculations (however, no one knows who made them anyway) say that the investment will exceed possible financial gain.

The Ukrainian visa costs up to $85, and if it comes to multiple entry visas, they can cost up to $200

Some particularly patriotic Ukrainian politicians are worried about the citizens of Russia, who will experience more problems coming to Ukraine to visit their relatives. At the same time, some say that all Russians, including senior citizens, are potential terrorists and militants. Some say that such a step is long overdue and it had to be taken two years ago. Perhaps, it’s to deny visas to the Russian tank crews who have gone on vacation, going to seize the Ukrainian city of Debaltseve. Right, this would certainly stop this type of “guests”…

Traditionally, statements coming from the executive branch are more pragmatic. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry is trying to analyze and assess the consequences of what would happen if the mirror measures are introduced by the Russian Federation. Some say that millions of citizens of Ukraine would immediately be offered Russian citizenship and, thus, the country will lose a significant amount of its workforce for good. At the same time, no one really names the number of Ukrainian citizens staying in the territory of the Russian Federation. It's really quite difficult to do, taking into account the occupation of the once densely populated areas of Donbas and Crimea.

Before the war, according to the data by the already disbanded Federal Migration Service of Russia, about a half million Ukrainians resided on the territory of Russia. Not all of them were seasonal workers. In the midst of the fighting in Donbas, the Russian side declared there were about 2.5 million Ukrainians in Russia, of whom a million were refugees. Part of that million definitively settled in Russia, having obtained or being in the process of obtaining a Russian passport, while some returned home because of the "cordial" reception.

By the way, no one is sure that the Kremlin will go for the mirror response, in an attempt to prove it has nothing to do with the war in Donbas. In fact, after the outbreak of hostilities, the Russian citizens can legally enter Ukraine exclusively with a passport for foreign travels, while citizens of Ukraine still enjoy an opportunity to cross the border with Russia using regular passports, for "humanitarian reasons".

No one really names the number of Ukrainian citizens staying in the territory of the Russian Federation

It was Ukraine who tightened the rules, but no response followed. So they might as well not follow in case visas are introduced. Russian leaders often like to claim they "love" the citizens of Ukraine and the visa issue can help them confirm this point it without any cost.

Visas will never be a better thing for regular citizens, because freedom of movement is one of the main values. It's great when the holder of the passport with the trident on the cover can travel freely both to the West and the East. Every Ukrainian citizen should be able to decide themselves whether to go to Russia or not, in view of the existing risks. And the war.

In the matter of the introduction of visas with Russia, there can be no unambiguous cons and pros, but it is unlikely to somehow affect the security, when 400 kilometers of common border are controlled exclusively by Russia. Especially, the Ukrainian authorities have all the necessary tools to limit the right of entry for foreign nationals anyway. Unless they cross the border as part of military units, of course. Then it would be rather problematic to verify their passports.

Visas will never be a better thing for regular citizens, because freedom of movement is one of the main values.

The introduction of visas is solely a political move, and it can be taken at the level of the president and government. This issue should have no place in the Verkhovna Rada. And, if it started to be discussed in Parliament, it very much looks like a desire to talk the talk and distract the audience from what is really important.

And this new "status quo" after the occupation of Crimea and Donbas has already led to the fact that Ukraine and Russia are going in totally opposite directions, and the situation won’t change anytime soon.

Roman Tsymbaliuk, Moscow

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