An open letter to the Foreign Office - Chernobyl Children’s Visas

To the very clever people in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, London UK.

I write that opening sentence with some sincerity, despite the sarcastic tone it may convey.  I have in my many  years living in Russia and latterly Ukraine met a good number of UK Ambassadors, Charges d’Affaires and other assorted FCO staff as they have rotated through on their 5 year cycles, either at “Brit gatherings” or during “one to one’s” when my presence has been requested.

Not one has struck me as a dullard or as being obviously muddleheaded.  Maybe I have been fortunate.

Maybe it is FCO policy to keep the dullards and muddleheaded that somehow go into the FCO safely imprisoned in the catacombs of Whitehall where it is felt they will do little damage diplomatically or politically on foreign soil.  Then again, there is Craig Murray to disprove that thinking.

Whatever, it seems that somebody has dreamed up a policy that I simply do not understand.

I realise that my seat of university education is in no way deemed equal to that of the Oxford and Cambridge graduates I have met putting Blighty’s best foot forward in the former Soviet Union.  However, I did emerge with a degree in civil engineering and consider myself to be fairly bright even if not the sharpest tool in the tool box.

The policy that I do not understand is this one.  I am something at a loss as to why the UK would remove the gratis status of Visas for the children with the legacy effects of the Chernobyl nuclear incident and reintroduce Visa fees.

Is it an issue of cost?  Does the UK need a corrupt Ukrainian oligarch to step in and stump up the costs and in doing so improve their image whilst damaging our own?

I do appreciate that a six month Visa for a Ukrainian to the UK is UAH 1056, or in Sterling, about 85 quid.  A princely sum I’ll grant you.  After all, if 100 of these unfortunate children visited the UK for free, that would come to the value of a couple of  bottles of the better wine in the Ambassadorial residence in Kyiv - maybe even an average bottle in the FCO cellars back home!

Now I do not quibble of the cost of a good wine mind you.  Especially when entertaining people of import from foreign  nations.  Making the right impression matters and builds personal relationships that are essential.  And yet I wonder what impression the reintroduction of Visa fees for the living legacy of Chernobyl, namely this generation of affected children you now want to start charging for Visas,  also has.

I can only presume this is a matter of cost, although I do wonder just what percentage of cost to the UK it is, in relation to the Euro hundreds of millions that has been donated to complete the Chernobyl Sarcophagus Mk II.  How much did the UK put into that additional sum, on top of what has already been donated over the years?

I’d wager far more than waving a few Visa fees for those that suffer the on-going effects from that tragedy.

Maybe it isn’t about costs?  Possibly I have headed up the wrong path?

Could it be that the UK simply doesn’t want these children to visit anymore and the reintroduction of fees is a deliberate additional hurdle?

But no, that can’t be.  The UK’s consistently declared position over Ukraine is that it supports Visa-free travel for all Ukrainian citizens  within the EU and the people to people contact that brings.  In light of that support for abolishing Visas for Ukrainians with the EU, it would make no sense to add additional hurdles to such a small number of people, when championing the removal of Visas for all the people.

Well, maybe it can make sense.

After all, it is very easy to be a vocal supporter of such a policy if you know nations such as Germany are opposed and with kibosh any real chance of that happening in the near future.  The UK gains favour with Ukraine for the vocal support, even if actually against what it is supporting, safe in the knowledge others will continually stop it happening.

The added bonus is that supporting Ukrainian Visa-free with the EU doesn’t necessarily mean supporting Visa-free with the UK does it.  After all, the UK is not within the Schengen agreement.  The UK can sit back and see what happens before removing Visas for the UK.

Nevertheless, I am struggling to see a diplomatic, economic or political  reason for this change of policy that delivers anything positive for the UK, unless the additional savings equate to a better stocked wine cellar - by a bottle or two anyway - but it all adds up I suppose.

I can see the potential for a fair amount of negative public relations, possibly domestic in the UK and certainly regionally.

It seems strange to be continuing to acknowledge the on-going legacy of Chernobyl by throwing in a few million quid into the EU pot aimed at finally sealing the leaking reactor and yet to be quibbling over the cost of 6 month visitors Visas for a small number of sick children.

It would be bizarre to throw additional hurdles in the way of such children getting Visas when the UK official line is to support Ukrainian people to people contact via Visa-free with the EU - or has that long standing policy changed?

Maybe it is me that is muddleheaded.  Am I missing something obvious whereby this policy change is clearly in the interest of the UK?

This leaves me considering the possibility that this policy is the British “tat” for a Ukrainian diplomatic or political “tit” and whilst the “tat” may not be directly connected to the offending “tit” in this “tit-for-tat”, we all know that everything is connected even when it appears not to be.

Regardless, do feel free to enlighten me as this will be incredibly hard to justify when asked by the Ukrainians I live amongst - and I do always try to justify the actions of the UK positively where ever possible when asked, even if I don’t agree with them personally.

I remain Sir, etc etc