Politics Of The Past Show Another Aspect Of Why Baltic States Might Restrict Entry Of Russian Civilians

Dr. E.C. Beuck

The Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have stated that they will not be accepting Russians into their countries so long as Russia remains at war with Ukraine. Under this travel ban, any Russians wishing to travel to the Baltic states, whether as tourists or for the purposes of business, culture, or sports, would not be allowed entry even if they possessed valid visas for the European Union’s checks-free Schengen Area. That being said, each state has announced that these border closures were “not an outright entry ban and commonly agreed legitimate exceptions will remain in force for dissidents, humanitarian cases,” as well as in some instances of Russian diplomatic missions or familial links. Poland has since joined them in imposing these new restrictions. These moves come after more than a million Russian citizens have entered the European Union since the start of the conflict.

Despite the firm stance, some, like the Danish Foreign Minister, Jeppe Kofod, have stated that the restrictions did not go far enough. "I think it's a provocation to see Russian tourists, for example, on the beaches of Europe or in the cafes of European capitals, when they are bombarding Ukrainian cities and killing civilians and committing war crimes," said Jeppe Kofod. Regardless, Russia has since responded that it would retaliate against these curbs, but would not close itself off from the European Union.

Important to understanding another facet of the ban is how Russia has utilized ethnic Russians in its neighbors when pursuing its foreign policy goals in the past. For example, Stalin utilized the alleged suffering of Russian ethnic minorities in Europe as a justification for the invasion of Poland and his westward push into Europe. The Soviet Union would go on to push ethnic Russians into settling in territories it had seized control over in World War II to expand Soviet influence in these formerly independent states.

Since the end of the Soviet Union, Putin has put his own spin on these claims by coaching them in the language of the “Responsibility to Protect.” This concept, also known as “R2P” in security circles, is the political commitment by states to end crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and genocide around the world, even if it requires intervention in the internal matters of a state by the other members of the international community to do so. A laudable goal for decreasing suffering in the international system, it has been warped by Putin into a tool to help justify the military adventures of Russia and the violence that follows. Indeed, in 2014 Putin pledged to protect all ethnic Russians anywhere, rhetoric that is similar to what he has used with regards to the conflict in Ukraine. Indeed, on February 24, 2022, Putin would broadcast a nationally televised address in which he announced his attack on Ukraine, with the justification that it was being done to protect the people being abused by a genocide committed by the regime in Kyiv.

With this in mind, one concern that the leaders of the Baltic states and Poland might be considering is if these massive numbers of Russians attempting to leave Russia might be aiming to stay in their own countries past the duration of the war in Ukraine. If so, they might become the justification of the future for Russia to pursue aggressive action and political meddling against their own states, much as Russian leaders have done in the past.

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Holding a PhD in Political Science, I write about current events and on political topics related to international relations, international law, conflict both between and within states, and the interactions between technology and politics.

Washington, DC

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