Monday, April 14, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Kremlin Would Infuriate Russians if It Limited Foreign Travel, Moscow Commentator Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 14 – Given memories of Soviet times, Russians today especially value their right to travel abroad and are not “prepared” to give up that right, even though many are not in a position to exercise it and even if they accept some of Moscow’s warnings about the risks such travel may involve, according to a “Novaya gazeta” commentator.

                In an article today, Andrey Kolesnikov notes that the inclusion in the 1993 Constitution of the right to travel abroad “as the subject of a political struggle,” the significance of which was no less than the annulment of the sixth paragraph of the Soviet Constitution about the CPSU as “the leading and directing force of society” (

            For Russians, he continues, “the freedom to leave with private property” is “one of the key freedoms.” Indeed, it is much closer than many others because “even if in the depth of your soul you are a convinced Russian patriot,” being able to go abroad freely allows you to feel that you are “a citizen of the world.”

            In 2013, more than 8.5 million Russian citizens travelled abroad as tourists,32 percent more than in 2012, statistics show.  And for all purposes during the first six months of last year, more than 23.7 million people went abroad, 20 percent more than during the corresponding period of the year before, although official travel fell 13 percent between the two.

            On the basis of the available evidence, Kolesnikov says, Russians whether they support the regime or not are not ready to give up this right. And the regime recognizes this reality: it shows no sign of being prepared to change the Constitution but instead is offering what can only be described as “caricatures” of that.

            The Russian foreign ministry, for example, has now recommended that Russian citizens refrain from travel to countries which have extradition treaties with the United States lest they find themselves in American jails, an announcement that follows “approximately the logic that we will respond to sanctions by making things worse for the citizens” of Russia.”

            The West isn’t going to be impressed by that, Kolesnikov says, and it would be a good idea if the Kremlin began thinking about how it will manage to retain “the thinking, educated and qualified part of the population” if it continues to promote “autarchy and the psychology of a besieged fortress.”

            Although Kolesnikov does not address it, the significance for Russians of the right to travel abroad makes Magnitsky-style lists far more important than many in the West imagine and means that increasing the number of Russian officials who cannot travel to the West is likely to prove an extremely effective means of putting pressure on the Kremlin.

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