PRAGUE — Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has called on the European Union to ban all Russians except political dissidents from traveling to the bloc, on the grounds that the unprovoked invasion of Moscow enjoys wide support in the country.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Ukrainian service on the sidelines of an informal meeting of EU foreign ministers in Prague on August 30, Kuleba said Europe was deluding itself if it thought only the president Russian Vladimir Putin was responsible for the ongoing war, and not for large swathes of it. of Russian society.
“When asked on the streets, most Russians support Putin’s policies…so to call this war ‘Putin’s problem’ and not a problem of Russian society which primarily supports its president is an illusion,” Kuleba said.
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EU foreign and defense ministers are in the Czech capital to discuss additional sanctions against Russia, including a possible blanket ban on Russian travel to the bloc, as well as ways to help Ukraine to defend themselves six months after the start of the full-scale war.
Push for a visa ban has grown in recent weeks, particularly among central and eastern European countries, but has been pushed back by some heavyweight members. The measure must be approved by the 27 member states.
Hours before the meeting, France and Germany issued a joint document claiming that limiting visas for Russians would be counterproductive as the EU tries to win “the hearts and minds” of Russians who do not support not the invasion.
Kuleba said ‘true’ Russian opponents of Putin should be allowed to travel to the European Union as well as select others for ‘humanitarian’ reasons – a possible reference to those in need of medical care abroad – but dismissed the idea that going to the bloc would influence other Russians’ views on Putin or the war.
Kuleba argued that since the EU simplified visa requirements for Russians in 2007, Moscow has invaded Georgia and Ukraine, murdered political opponents in Europe and used its gas and oil as weapons against the bloc. .
“My question is, what is this transformative impact [of eased travel to the EU] practice? Maybe they should see what’s really going on and admit it’s just illusions,” he said.
Easy trips to Europe “didn’t help teach Russians to respect other people, other countries and other peoples”, he said.
The EU has since February tightened visa restrictions for Russians and banned Russian planes from its airspace, drastically reducing the number of visitors from the country entering the bloc.
Yet Russians, including some government officials and their relatives, are still arriving in EU states for holidays, and the number of Russians applying for visas to travel to the EU has increased.
Images of the regime’s elite like Liza Peskova, the daughter of Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who recently visited Greece, have fueled international resentment as Ukrainian losses and hardship mount.
Russians “have to choose,” Kuleba said: “If you support Putin, then stay in Russia and enjoy it; don’t use Europe to your advantage.”
He called the issue “a matter of self-respect” for Europeans, saying Putin had unleashed aggression not only against Ukraine but against the West more broadly.
“The only difference is that Putin attacks us with missiles and tanks. He attacks Europeans with energy prices, inflation, propaganda. But the goal is the same: to destroy the democratic world. “
During the 30-minute interview, Kuleba also touched on other major topics, including NATO membership, relations with Turkey and peace talks with Russia.
He said the administration of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was working with the West to find a temporary solution to the country’s desire for a security guarantee.
Ukraine has been seeking to join NATO for years, but Washington and Brussels have repeatedly said Kyiv is not ready and years away in what experts say is the West’s attempt to postpone a decision and to avoid provoking Russia.
Kuleba said that after the invasion of Russia, it would be “indecent” if NATO again demanded that Ukraine go through “a long, endless process” before becoming a member of the alliance.
He said Kyiv welcomed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s efforts to mediate, but said his call for talks between Zelenskiy and Putin was premature.
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“We do not share the view that Russia is now ready for negotiations. All of Russia’s actions demonstrate that it believes in its war and seeks a military solution to the conflict.”
Kuleba reiterated that Ukraine would not compromise its territorial integrity to end the war and chastised foreigners for trying to pressure Kyiv to do so.
“I’m tired of their skepticism. These are all groups who never believed in Ukraine, who were in favor of semi-measures against Russia,” he said.
Kuleba described the victory as a three-step process: restoring Ukraine’s territorial integrity, prosecuting Russian war criminals and paying reparations, and publicly repenting Russia for its aggression against Israel. Ukraine, just as Germany had done after World War II.
“I continue to believe that the day will come when a Russian leader will come to Ukraine, kneel in front of the monument to the victims of Russian aggression and apologize to the Ukrainian people for all the harm that has been done to us. And when that happens, it will be the final victory of Ukraine.”
Nevertheless, he said, it may take generations for Ukraine to restore relations with Russia.