Stop ‘cancelling’ Russians and get them on our side instead, says top Zelensky advisor

·3 min read
Oleksiy Arestovych - Ukrainian Presidency / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Oleksiy Arestovych - Ukrainian Presidency / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Ukraine should stop “cancelling” Russian people and instead try to peel them away from Vladimir Putin’s regime,  a top adviser to Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, said on Wednesday.

Oleksiy Arestovych hit out at fellow citizens for “letting their emotions get the better of them and cancelling [all Russians]” in a lengthy post on social media.

Mr Arestovych, a former intelligence officer, issued the statement amid fierce debate on whether the West should stop allowing Russian citizens to visit on holiday, as a form of collective punishment for the war in Ukraine.

“These are tens and hundreds of thousands of people sitting on the fence who could switch to our side,” he wrote. “And now they’re not going to do it.”

In his statement, the 47-year-old appeared to take issue with President Zelensky’s view on the matter.

Mr Zelensky in a recent interview with the Washington Post called on Europe to stop issuing short-term visas for all Russians “until they change their philosophy”, expressing his frustration with anti-war Russians for not doing enough to stop the brutal invasion.

Moscow has jailed dozens of citizens for criticising the war since ruling “fake news” about the military carried a maximum sentence of fifteen years.

On Wednesday, Mr Arestovych did not criticise the president personally but instead berated some Ukrainians for pursuing a black-and-white narrative that could hurt Ukraine in the long run.

“The Kremlin has spent 30 years looking for ways to oversimplify things. Now you did it for them,” said the presidential adviser who is a regular on the live broadcasts of exiled Russian media.

“Simplistic reactions cause complicated consequences.”

Schools across Ukraine have dropped the Russian language from their curriculum and the education ministry has also recommended removing Russian authors from literature classes.

Estonia, which has already stopped issuing visas for Russians, last week banned Russians with Estonian-issued Schengen visas from entering.

Latvia, another Baltic nation that saw a Soviet occupation, said on Tuesday that it will curtail issuing residence permits to Russian nationals, saying the permits will be renewed in “very rare, exceptional cases”.

Egils Levits, Latvia’s president, earlier this week insisted that issuing tourist visas for Russians to “relax peacefully in Europe” in the middle of the brutal invasion was not “politically and morally justifiable”.

Both Latvia and Estonia have been popular destinations for middle-class Russians to buy summer homes, with many later acquiring residence permits.

Calls for an EU-wide ban on entry for Russian passport holders are unlikely to succeed as many member states including Germany have objected to the move.

Wimbledon was this year criticised for barring all Russian athletes from competition.

Between 200,000 to 500,000 Russians are estimated to have fled the country since the start of the invasion.

Many of them left for visa-free nations such as Georgia and Armenia and are now looking to re-settle in Europe. Some of the emigres are scared of even visiting Russia as a mere social media post criticising the war could land them in jail.

Russian opposition figures in exile have spoken out against the visa ban as a meaningless gesture that targets ordinary people who have no bearing on decision-making in the Kremlin.

“Some European politicians are trying to come up with ideas that will look effective and popular while they have no room for progress on pressuring the Putin regime economically (such as the gas embargo),” Leonid Volkov, a close adviser of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, said.

“But there are still effective tools left. Just a kind reminder that (Mr Putin’s ex-wife) has a villa in Biarritz and two luxury flats in Malaga. I’d suggest the European Union start with that.”