Estonia and Finland want EU ban on Russian tourists

Estonia and Finland want EU ban on Russian tourists
Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas arrives for a special meeting of European council called in emergency after the launch of Russian military operations in Ukraine, in Brussels, Thursday 24 February 2022, at the European Union headquarters in Brussels. BELGA PHOTO NICOLAS MAETERLINCK

The leaders of Estonia and Finland are calling for a ban on Russian tourists to the EU in response to the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Russia has dismissed these concerns, although several member states are open to such an entry ban. Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania already no longer issue tourist visas to Russian citizens.

On Tuesday, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said that "visiting Europe is a privilege, not a human right," on Twitter, adding that it is now "time to end tourism from Russia."

On Monday, her Finish counterpart Sanna Marin said on national radio that it is "not right" that Russians can lead normal lives, including going on holiday in the EU, "while Russia is waging an aggressive, brutal war in Europe," reported De Morgen.

After Russia invaded Ukraine, the EU banned all air travel from Russia, yet Russian nationals can still travel overland to the EU with a tourist visa. In addition, Russians can take a plane to other EU destinations from neighbouring countries Finland and Estonia. Russian companies even offer transport from St. Petersburg to Finnish airports, according to Finnish broadcaster YLE.

Finland is currently the only neighbouring country to Russia that still grants tourists visas to Russian nationals. Yet Russians can travel to other EU countries, as the freedom to travel across the Schengen area means that a Russian with a Belgian tourist visa can just cross the border into Estonia.

Kallas believes that the EU Member States that are issuing these visas are burdening Estonia, Latvia and Finland with Russian travellers.

Her comments come after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on the EU to impose a travel ban on Russians. "The most important sanctions are to close the borders — because the Russians are taking away someone else’s land," Zelensky said in the Washington Post, adding that Russians should "live in their own world until they change their philosophy."

Zelensky's views have hardened, as he earlier urged Russians opposed to the war to leave the country.

Russia's neighbours in favour of restrictions

Several member states have spoken out in favour of an EU-wide entry ban, including Estonia, Finland and Latvia, but there is also wider opposition to further restrict Russians in the EU. Hungary enjoys better relations with Russia and will probably be against the move. Moreover, countries with large Russian communities, including Germany and Spain, are also less likely to show support.

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Further to this, the European Commission itself may not want to impose such a ban to allow family members, journalists, activists, and dissidents to obtain a visa due to the risk of persecution in Russia. Press freedom is rapidly shrinking and anyone speaking out against Russia's 'special military operation' risks up to 15 years in prison. In addition, many foreign correspondents in Russia are being kicked out of the country.

Moscow replied that Europe must decide whether it will pay the price for "Zelensky's whims". According to De Morgen, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said there is zero risk of Russians becoming isolated from the rest of the world and that "common sense" will prevail, such that countries calling for a travel ban on Russians will come to their senses.

If it were up to the Finnish Prime Minister, the issue will be high on the EU agenda in the coming months. After the summer recess, the travel ban should be discussed at an informal meeting among EU foreign ministers at the end of August.

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