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The new Iron Curtain


We have already written about the Second Cold War and we have predicted a border that will define it. The new Iron Curtain will be economic and regulatory. Although people from Russia will be able to travel to Europe, the price of their doing so will go up due to more complex regulations with more expensive fees. This entails that fewer of them will be able or inclined to do so, as a natural consequence of pricing in the economics of supply and demand for a commodity such as travel or immigration.


Some of the extra costs are explicit. European visas will become more expensive for Russian citizens, without any reference to the costs of issuing those visas and notiwithstanding that visa fees are not going up for any other nationals. This has been made explicit by the European Commission: visa fee increases are a form of collective punishment of Russian citizens for the actions of Russia's government in invading Ukraine. See here:


https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-62811675


It is important to emphasise just how misconceived this policy is.


  1. Collective punishment is something the United Nations member states expressly disavowed in the new world order following the end of World War II, in which groups of European peoples and others across the globe had been punished just for being part of a reviled group: most fundamentally, Europe's Jews but many other groups were persecuted on an identity basis for the imagined sins of their governments or representatives. Decent people find this morally obnoxious. The European Union was set up in part to prevent such things. Now it is inflicting such obnoxious medicine itself.

  2. Hence charging Russians more than other citizens to enter Europe purely because they are Russian is racist. It rests upon a wholly false assumption, namely that Russians as a whole are bad people or responsible for wrongful acts of their government which they are not.

  3. Interestingly Russian visa policy is not racist in this way. The fees and terms are the same for all visa nationals, more or less. (Americans and British go through additional security checks in case they are spies; but the costs of this are not passed onto the individual visa applicant.) Also notably, neither the United Kingdom nor the United States have increased the hurdles involved in visa applications for Russian citizens. That is surely because the robust common law legal systems of those countries would strike down discriminatory visa policies aimed at Russian citizens as unlawful, a sort of judicial protection Russians cannot hope for from European courts.

  4. Deterring Russians from visiting Europe will promote a cultural and ideological divide in which people from different countries will mix less and hence will become less comfortable and understanding each of the other. This will render cultural hostility more prevalent, that is likely to feed into mutual political hostility between Russian and European governments in a symbiotic relationship.

  5. Russians and the rest of the world will come to understand one another less well. This is an incontrovertibly bad thing.

  6. Russians will feel persecuted for the actions of their government, something likely to cause defensiveness and that will also cause them to be more susceptible to their government's own propaganda that the West is an arbitrary, capricious, politically unfair, bogus and dishonest place with a hypocritical conception of democracy.


We should add that the argument that it is necessary to keep Russian spies out of Europe - although often heard - is ridiculous. The proportion of Russian visitors to Europe who are active Russian spies is miniscule. Visa restrictions will not reduce the number of Russian spies, who it can be expected will have the skills and resources to circumnavigate the regulations. The way you stop spies entering your country is by using techniques of counter-espionage, which is something else entirely.


We have been here before. It was called the Cold War. Travel between East and West was deterred through measures such as making visas to travel to the other side of the Iron Curtain in each case more burdensome. Hence people just didn't do it. They spent their summer vacations, or their professional travel, not crossing the Iron Curtain and not engaging with that part of the world that active deterrents were placed in the way of travelling to by governments.


The Iron Curtain was not composed of iron. It was composed of government deterrents, in the form of restrictions on flights between East and West (similar to the comprehensive flight restriction regimes between Europe and Russia / Belarus currently in force); increased visa fees (discussed above); confounding bureaucratic requirements for different pieces of paper to obtain visas (the EU has enacted a policy that explicitly increases the paperwork necessary for Russians to obtain European visas); and promoting a culture of mutual paranoia in which people with barriers placed by governments between their meeting one another leads to a suspicion on each side that there must be some good reason for this - in other words that there is something wrong with the people of the other side - when in fact there is not.


This sort of institutionally reinforced paranoia is the result when we inculcate our visa and immigration policies with overtly racist principles of collective responsibility. Sanctioning wealthy people who have nothing to do with the policy decisions of the Russian government of which we disapprove tends to generate similar effects.


I think that one of the key tools in foiling the misdeeds of the Russian government in invading Ukraine - an unnecessary escalation on the part of Russia in military aggression in response to a serious but principally non-military political problem between two large neighbouring states with a complex history - is not to erect borders against Russia but to dismantle them.


Let Russians feel ever more welcome in a united Europe, as fellow Europeans, irrespective of the actions of their errant government. Do not drive them away. With such a policy we are far more likely to win the hearts and minds of our fellow Russians - essential if we wish to catalyse Russian political reform from within - than if we treat our fellow Russians in cheap racist ways with casually discriminatory policies that hurt the errant Russian government not one bit but hurt the innocent Russian people universally with policies of collective punishment.


The West did not increase visa restrictions against Soviet citizens during the 1980's, amidst the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, a war of which the West likewise profoundly disapproved. On the contrary, it made travel to the West easier, to encourage Soviet citizens to interact with the West and understand it more. That policy paid dividends, in the form of Glasnost and Perestroika, Soviet revolutionary reforms of freedom and openness that ultimately dissolved the entire Soviet communist system. Why are we not pursuing a parallel approach now, in response to Russia's 2022 invasion of Ukraine?


We as Europeans should be ashamed of ourselves. Roll back the new Iron Curtain. The first Iron Curtain was devised by the Soviet Union. This one is devised by us. It is a disgrace.