Finland and Estonia urge EU to stop issuing tourist visas to Russians

The prime ministers of Estonia and Finland have called on the EU to stop issuing tourist visas to Russians in an attempt to open up a new sanctions front following Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Finland — which, like Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, shares a border with western Russia — has noted an uptick in Russian tourists entering the country often on visas from other EU countries and then using its airports to fly elsewhere in the bloc through the Schengen free travel area.

The subject has been raised among EU leaders and is set to be formally discussed at their next summit, scheduled for October, according to a person with knowledge of the talks.

“Stop issuing tourist visas to Russians,” Kaja Kallas, Estonia’s prime minister, wrote on Twitter on Tuesday. “Visiting Europe is a privilege, not a human right. Air travel from Russia is shut down. It means while Schengen countries issue visas, neighbours to Russia carry the burden (Finland, Estonia, Latvia — sole access points).”

Sanna Marin, Finland’s prime minister, told state broadcaster Yle: “It’s not right that at the same time as Russia is waging an aggressive, brutal war of aggression in Europe, Russians can live a normal life, travel in Europe, be tourists. It’s not right.”

Several European countries are looking at ways to restrict Russian travellers while keeping their borders open within the confines of the Schengen regime of visas and no passport checks inside much of the continent.

But other member states are wary of shutting out all Russian citizens.

“You don’t want to completely ban all Russians from travelling to the EU. How are we going to engage at all?” said an EU official. “Russians not in favour of the war need to be able to travel too.”

The Kremlin said the calls showed “irrational thought beyond the pale” and tacitly likened them to Nazi Germany. “Many of these countries are so hostile to us that it’s making them delirious,” Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, told reporters on Tuesday.

“They are stooping to sentiments that we heard literally 80 years ago from certain countries in the heart of Europe,” Peskov said, according to Interfax.

“I think common sense will eventually prevail and the people who made these statements will come to their senses,” he added.

Latvia stopped issuing visas to almost all Russian citizens at the start of August. But Finnish authorities believe they may lack the legal basis for a ban so are looking at ways of restricting visas for Russians while pushing for an EU solution.

“Is Finnish legislation up-to-date enough that we could introduce our own national sanctions in such a very exceptional situation? But I would personally like to see European solutions to this question as well,” Marin told Yle.

“The EU has partially suspended the Visa Facilitation Agreement with Russia. The suspension targets people close to the Russian regime. It does not affect ordinary Russian citizens for the time being,” said Anitta Hipper, the European Commission’s spokesperson for home affairs, migration and internal security.

“Member states have significant leeway to decrease or stop issuing long-stay visas and residence permits, under their national law,” Hipper said in a statement. “There will always be categories of people for which visas should be issued,” she added, citing “humanitarian cases, for family members, journalists or dissidents”.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ukraine’s president, told the Washington Post on Monday that western countries should close their borders to Russians “because the Russians are taking away someone else’s land”.

Peskov said attempts to isolate Russia had “no prospects” and said European countries would soon tire of their support for Ukraine amid high energy prices.

“Zelensky should understand that European countries that are trying to punish Russia are actively paying the bills for it,” he said. “Sooner or later, these countries will start asking whether Zelenskyy is doing everything right and why their citizens have to pay for his whims.”

Finland’s foreign ministry has said some Russians are using the Nordic country to fly out to other destinations in Europe. Yle reported that Russian companies were offering car trips from St Petersburg to Helsinki and Lappeenranta airports in Finland. The EU has banned air travel from Russia itself but Russians are still able to fly from inside the EU.

One drastic possibility to stop Russians entering the bloc is to close the border. Lauri Läänemets, Estonia’s interior minister, said two weeks ago that such a move would not be a good idea as “the problem is that some people, including Estonian citizens, need to be able to cross the border [and] a certain level of commerce is also still taking place”.

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