With Russia expelling hundreds of American embassy employees, the US is making drastic cuts to the way visas are issued to Russians. In doing so, the US is damaging its own interests, says DW's Miodrag Soric.
The sanctions war between the US and Russia is entering a new round, acquiring a momentum of its own, and increasingly slipping out of the politicians' hands. Ultimately, what is going to happen is precisely what the hawks in the American Congress actually want to prevent: The sanctions will affect only Russian civil society. Worse still: They will assist those politicians who want to isolate Russia still further.
Case in point: in the future, Russians wanting to travel to the US will only be able to obtain a visa in Moscow; they will no longer be able to get them from consulates general in other Russian cities. The change was announced Monday by the US Embassy in Moscow. This policy is both shortsighted and, ultimately, counter-productive.
Thousands of kilometers for a visa?
What happens if a Russian student from Yekaterinburg or a businessman from Vladivostok can only get a US visa in Moscow? Many people simply can't afford the long and expensive journey to the Russian capital. And so they will stay at home. In short: In future, there will be a drastic drop in the number of Russians who will be able to form their own impressions of America. Is that what the hawks in Congress want? Hardly.
Anyone who wants to change Russia, the mentality of the people there, has to talk to them, invite them, show them the supposedly hostile West. Or, as the Russian saying has it: To see something once is worth more than hearing it a thousand times. Young Russians who have seen Times Square in New York, the business world in London or the cultural life of Berlin are different people when they return to their homeland. They have acquired a different view of Russia, what it's like, and how it could be. Encouraging this process of change should really be the noblest aim of Western diplomacy. With its decision to drastically restrict the issuing of US visas to Russians, Washington is achieving the exact opposite.
What are Moscow's counter-measures?
So what happens now? The first voices are being raised in the Russian parliament, demanding further sanctions against the United States. Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, has rejected these calls. Ultimately it will be President Vladimir Putin who decides. But in any case, Russian-American relations are at a new low.
The role of Germany is therefore even more important. Of course Berlin is part of the West, a loyal ally of the United States - there's no doubt about this. But Chancellor Angela Merkel's Russia policy is more nuanced and concerned with the pursuit of long-term goals than the hardliners in Washington would ever imagine. Angela Merkel has both the authority and the experience to be a moderating influence on Washington. Because, in the long term, no one in either Europe or the United States can have any interest in seeing Russia become focused solely on itself.