Monday, November 16, 2015

Moscow Erecting Not an Iron Curtain But a ‘Kevlar’ One, Shipilov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 16 – The Kremlin will not violate the Russian Constitution’s guarantee that Russians have the right to travel abroad and thus erect a new “iron curtain,” Andrey Shipilov says. Instead, it will take steps that will make it impossible for Russians to travel abroad without specifically saying so.

            And those steps, some already taken and many more now being discussed, will have the same effect, albeit allowing Russian officials plausible deniability. And thus, the founder of the Anti-Prize of the Runet, one should begin to speak of a “Kevlar Curtain, a harmless fabric” few will be able to get through (

            Russians routinely say that the right to travel abroad is one of the things they value most from the collapse of the Soviet system: that right is even enshrined in the country’s constitution. And any direct attempt to annul that right would set off a storm of protests even though few have actually made use of it.

            Consequently, the Kremlin which wants to do just that has adopted a strategy which will make it all but impossible for most Russians to travel abroad but allow the constitutional “right” to do so to remain untouched, Shipilov says, another example of the duplicitous way in which the current Russian regime operates.

            Moscow is raising the prices of air tickets to foreign destinations by a variety of means, including the seizure of Transaero, which had undercut Aeroflot – and hence the regime – by offering combined air, hotel, and food tickets for less than the state airline charged for just the flights.  So, it had to be closed down.

            Then, it has taken other measures. It shut down all flights to Egypt after the Sinai tragedy, claiming that other countries had done the same. Absolutely untrue, Shipilov says. The UK and France blocked flights over Sinai but not to Egypt. Clearly, Moscow wanted to force its citizens to travel only within Russia.

            And the Russian foreign ministry is constantly putting out official declarations that “Russian citizens going abroad face serious dangers” and making “recommendations (at least for the time being they are only recommendations) that citizens contact [Russian] consulates in other countries.”

            Even taken together, he continues, “this will not be any iron curtain.” Instead by slow and almost unnoticed steps, the regime is tightening the controls on the population and reducing their opportunities.” And it is doing so in ways that it will be able to deny that it is doing anything unconstitutional.

            It will point out that while people have the right to travel abroad, they can’t be guaranteed that they will have enough money to do so. And officials will say that the constitution doesn’t limit the amount of money charged for a foreign passport: that can easily be raised to the point that only the wealthiest will be able to afford it.

            These same officials will insist that “for [their] own security,” Russians must inform government offices of their plans well in advance – and if they miss these deadlines, they will simply have to delay or cancel their travel plans.  And they are likely to introduce limits on how much money Russians can take with them if they travel abroad.

            Shipilov says that all this may seem inconceivable, but none of it is more inconceivable that a war between Russia and Ukraine would have appeared to everyone two years ago.  Moreover, everything he mentions “not only is being actively discussed not just in the corridors but at a completely official level and in the open.”

            Thus, the future of foreign travel by Russians is anything but bright.

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