Cons and pros of visa regime with Russia
Thinking in terms of peace time, many of Ukrainian citizens will have issues with the introduction of the visa regime with Ukraine by the Russian Federation. For many it will create inconvenience because plenty of Ukrainians visit Russia quite often - someone has relatives there, someone does season work or owns real estate. So a peacetime introduction of visa regime would definitely be a bad move.
However, Russia’s armed aggression against Ukraine is ongoing. In such circumstances, the comfort of citizens is secondary to national security and protection of these very citizens, who fail to understand that they keep traveling to a country that respects neither its own legislation nor international law. We see that the arrests of Ukrainian citizens continue as well as provocations against them. We should recall Ukrainians detained in Crimea or a "terrorist," perhaps as dangerous as Osama bin Laden, the director of a Ukrainian library in Moscow… These are today’s realities.
The introduction of a visa regime with Russia, above all, will lead to financial and organizational issues for the Ukrainian foreign ministry, SBU security service, and other agencies tasked with setting up an appropriate communications system that would allow the authorities to filter out those whom the country needs and those who are unwelcome. In particular, this requires training for Ukraine’s consuls. At the same time, the foreign ministry is in a constant stress anyway. It sees underfunding; lack of available qualified diplomats, for whom accommodation should be found right away, if necessary; plus, the need to increase the number of Ukrainian diplomats in the country’s missions in the Russian Federation (the Embassy in Moscow, consular departments, and the Consulate General). So, of course, the first few months after the introduction of a visa regime will definitely bring a huge load on the ministry, create inconvenience and conflict situations. Moreover, I believe Russian security forces and intelligence will be trying to provoke even greater tensions.
If Ukraine introduces a visa regime with Russia, Moscow is likely to resort to a mirror response. However, they will look into the possible repercussions
Furthermore, the decision will cause dissatisfaction among Ukrainians who fail to understand that there is a war going on and they should reconsider visiting the aggressor state. If we look at recent polls, the U.S. and Ukraine are those whom most Russians consider enemies. Meanwhile, we witness this weird pacifism and relaxation in Ukraine. Therefore, the introduction of visa regime will cause tensions, mostly coming from the Ukrainian side, as many Ukrainians keep traveling to Russia to earn some cash or visit their relatives. Of course, these people will be unhappy with the move by the Ukrainian authorities, while the Kremlin will be exploiting this fact against Ukraine.
This is a real problem of the Kyiv government - it does not mobilize the society, it does not explain what is going on, and that’s why some in Ukraine still consider Russia a "brotherly" and "friendly" nation, believing that there has only been a certain misunderstanding between politicians. This is exactly the idea Russian intelligence is trying to insert in Ukrainian media and minds of ordinary Ukrainians. Among the main theses is "everything would have been okay had it not been Poroshenko’s moves", at the same time evading the issue of Crimea annexation. Another gem is "Donbas needs some autonomy, and that's fine, because Ukraine is undergoing a decentralization process…"
In particular, the introduction of a visa regime with Russia will lead financial and organizational problems
Since the times of Soviet diplomatic mission, Russian embassies, general consulates, representative offices in international organizations are mostly filled with people wearing suits, who had earlier worn military straps. That is, spies and those who engaged in subversive activities. After the introduction of the visa regime, they will have no more chances and opportunities to operate freely in Ukraine.
So there are some technological and logistical nuances to the introduction of a visa regime with Russia. And there is the impact on society, which the Russian propaganda machine will be using against Ukraine. Moscow will claim that the Ukrainian government does not meet the interests of the society because "Ukrainians want to love Russians and travel to Russia." Russia will keep channeling the message that the Kyiv government is further fueling the situation, and if this government is changed, peace will return immediately, or the Soviet Union, or the Commonwealth of Independent States, whatever.
If Ukraine introduces a visa regime with Russia, Moscow is likely to resort to a mirror response. However, they will look into the possible repercussions. I recall when the Turks shot down a Russian warplane, Russia responded, but then they played things back, because they saw that it would be more profitable to them to alter their stance. We can also recall another situation where Barack Obama deported Russian spies from the U.S. but the Russians chose not to react, although it is a normal thing in the intelligence and diplomatic circles that one has the right for a mirror action in such cases. Moscow has not done so in the hope for a rapprochement with Trump.
But will the decision to introduce the visa regime between Ukraine and Russia be an adequate move? I think, not really. I believe, more adequate would be a tougher regime, similar to the one Ukraine set up with the occupied areas of Donbas – crossing with a special permit issued by the SBU. The same permit should be given to those traveling to Russia and those entering Ukraine from there. Such a harsh regime is required to protect Ukrainians citizens from Russia's repressive machinery and to ensure that those dangerous individuals engaged in subversive activities don’t cross into Ukraine. That would be the most adequate measure.
Oleksandr Khara is a director for foreign multilateral relations at the Maidan of Foreign Affairs Foundation