The European Union is considering a total suspension of its 2007 agreement with Moscow providing for facilitation of the issuance of short-stay visas for certain categories of Russian nationals, revealed a European diplomat on Monday, emphasising the “symbolic” nature of the measure.
The European foreign ministers, who are to meet Tuesday and Wednesday in Prague, could agree to implement this suspension, requested by Finland, by October, according to the diplomat.
The restrictions concerning Schengen visas granted to Russians is a subject of division between the Member States. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the EU had already suspended the application of these facilities for certain categories linked to the regime.
The agreement between Russia and the EU also provides for simplified procedures for obtaining visas for a maximum of 90 days for other categories, such as journalists, athletes and family visits.
"We cannot continue the visa policy as it has been conducted so far. I am convinced that the facilitation agreement will be the first step" in a stricter policy for Europeans, the diplomat said, qualifying this suspension as "symbolic."
Subsequently, "a ban on tourist visas could be added to the next set of sanctions, with exceptions for civil society, humanitarian cases and students," he said, saying he expected a "vigorous" debate in Prague this week.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called on Westerners to completely close their borders to Russians who must "live in their own world until they change their philosophy."
Such a ban on visas issued to Russian tourists for the Schengen area, which would be an unprecedented measure, is notably demanded by the Baltic States, but Germany opposes it, and the European Commission is not in favour of it either.
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Bordering Russia, Finland – which processes some 1,000 visa applications a day – has decided to reduce the number of visas issued to Russian tourists to 10% of this volume from 1 September.
The Czech Republic, the Baltic States and Poland have also tightened their visa regime for Russians to varying degrees (total stop or for tourists only), with exceptions including studies, family reasons, humanitarian reasons and opposition media.
The countries of the Schengen area received three million short-stay visa applications in 2021, of which Russians were the most numerous at 536,000 applications.