Column: Russia bans thousands of Americans, cites “Russophobia”

Malik Harvey, Staff Writer

Last Monday, Russia added 25 new names to its ‘permanently banned’list, including high-ranking U.S. officials, business people and actors. 

Nearly 1,000 Americans have been banned from Russia, due to inciting “Russophobia” or serving those who do.

Among the names included in the list are actors Ben Stiller and Sean Penn, who join Morgan Freeman and Rob Reiner as “threats” against Russia’s sovereignty. It’s a hell of a time we live in when the same actor who played Derek Zoolander is considered dangerous to a rival country’s national security.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said that this ‘blacklist’ is spontaneous and aimed at, “compelling the ruling U.S. regime, which is attempting to impose a neocolonial ‘rule-based world order’ on the rest of the world, to change its conduct by acknowledging the new geopolitical realities.” 

The bit about the U.S., “attempting to impose a neocolonial ‘rule-based world order’ on the rest of the world,” is a fairly accurate rock thrown by the Kremlin. What left my eyebrows furrowed was it seemed like the Russian Ministry was throwing a rock from a glass house. 

Russia has left breadcrumbs of imperialism, war crimes and hoards of misinformation (in 2022 alone) on its journey to being a leading global power again. Unless you’ve been vacationing in the Bermuda Triangle for the last seven months, you’re likely aware of the ongoing Russian and Ukrainian conflict; it’s a war costing thousands of civilian and military lives, billions of dollars and the trust of international regimes in Russia. 

Unfortunately, this is not the first dance between these two former USSR members.

In 2004, Presidential candidates Viktor Yanukovych and Viktor Yushchenko faced off to be the successor of then Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma. Yuschenko, being pro-European, was the victim of countless dirty tricks to position him as a “Ukraine nationalist” and “Russophobe” in the eyes of the Russian population housed in Ukraine. Initially, pro-Russian candidate Yanukovych won the election but after two weeks of citizen protest to annul the election (which became known as the Orange Revolution), the Supreme Court ruled the election invalid and ordered another runoff. As a result of the newly held elections, Yuschenko became the new President of Ukraine.

Within months of the Ukrainian insurgence, Russia announced plans to inaugurate the “Russian Today” TV channel, becoming the first English-language international TV news broadcasting platform in Russia. The Kremlin’s interest in diminishing the chance of losing another information war is the frame this novel idea rested on.  

“Russia Today,” or “RT,” is a stronghold for anti-Western messaging and expression of malice towards the post-1991 international order. To ensure the democratic bug didn’t grow too many legs, Moscow intertwined the Soviet past with present-day Russia while minimizing the heinous crimes of the Communist era. 

Ironically, 2010 saw the election of Pro-Russian candidate Viktor Yanukovych as President of Ukraine but he found himself ousted from power only four years later (after what is known as the 2014 Euromaidan Revolution). Yanukovych was replaced by the Ukrainian Parliament with an acting President and Prime Minister. Intentions were translucent to bring Ukraine closer to Europe by signing an association agreement with the European Union (EU). 

Armed men wearing Russian uniforms, with no insignias, begin occupying pertinent facilities and checkpoints on the Crimean peninsula, soon after Ukraine announced plans to join the EU. Initially, Putin lied and said these men weren’t Russian soldiers only to admit later that they were. 

Early March brought the entire peninsula under Russian control, and on March 16th, the Crimean Supreme Council arranged a referendum that laid out two choices: coalesce with Russia or remit Crimea’s 1992 constitution. Those who wanted to vote for the latter didn’t even have a box to check on the ballot sheet. The vote was held under murky conditions, resulting in Crimea agreeing to be annexed by Russia. 

Taking the legs out from under Ukraine has been at the top of the list for Russian rulers dating back to the Tsarists’ days. With Ukraine being in a strategic location for Russia to transport oil and gas, it makes sense from a Russian perspective to keep Ukraine at bay. From a human perspective, it’s simply a tragedy. 

As a result of these nefarious acts, the U.S. and EU have levied heavy sanctions on Russia for their nefarious acts. The latest sanctions on Russia have been the freezing of banks’ U.S. assests, sanctions on two notable Russian banks and their subsidaries and restrictions on high-tech products, like computers and semiconductors, to reduce Russia’s military capabilities.

U.S. history is littered with some of the same breadcrumbs as Russia’s, but when the two powers communicate they seem to find no correlation. For the sake of our two respective countries, I hope we see our commonalities soon.