The Prime Ministers of Estonia and Finland, respectively Kaja Kallas and Sanna Marin, have both called for the EU to end the granting of visas to Russian tourists, as has Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs.
Kallas stated that visiting the EU was ‘a privilege, not a human right’ and that it was ‘time to end tourism from Russia. Stop issuing tourist visas to Russians’.
Marin echoed Kallas, telling Finnish public broadcaster YLE that it was ‘not right that while Russia is waging an aggressive, brutal war of aggression in Europe, Russians can live a normal life, travel to Europe, be tourists’.
Rinkēvičs also tweeted last month that the ‘EU must consider Russia as state sponsor of terrorism – I reiterate proposal to impose EU tourist visa ban for citizens.’
Kallas added: “Air travel from Russia is shut down. It means that while Schengen countries issue visas, neighbours to Russia carry the burden (Finland, Estonia, Latvia – sole access points). Time to end tourism from Russia now.”
While air and rail routes from Russia are closed, roads are open
The EU banned air travel from Russia shortly after the invasion of Ukraine began in February, while the last passenger rail link, between St Petersburg and Helsinki, was suspended in March. However, travellers can still enter EU territory by road.
While many EU countries which share a border with Russia have tightened visa rules since February, there has been uncertainty about the legality of imposing an outright ban. Under standard EU rules, a visa issued by one member of the zone cannot be refused by others, meaning that Russian citizens not targeted by individual sanctions can use neighbouring countries as ‘transit zones’ to enter the bloc.
The demands echo those of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who called on Western countries to ban all Russian citizens from their lands in response to their government’s annexation of Ukrainian territory during an interview with the Washington Post on Monday 8 August.
He argued that ‘the most important sanctions are to close the borders — because the Russians are taking away someone else’s land’, and that Russians should ‘live in their own world until they change their philosophy’.
EU Foreign Ministers are expected to discuss the issue at their next meeting, in the Czech Republic at the end of the month.
The proposal has been met with uncertainty within the EU and hostility from Russia
The proposition of an EU-wide ban on all Russian travellers is likely to be met with resistance from member states with traditionally closer ties to Russia, such as Hungary. In addition, the EU has already questioned the logic of a blanket ban, arguing that there are categories of travellers such as political dissidents, journalists and the relatives of EU citizens who should be permitted to enter.
Such concerns have been echoed even inside the governments of those politicians who are calling for a ban. Lauri Läänemets, Estonia’s Interior Minister, argued that ‘the problem [with a travel ban] 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’.
The Russian government has understandably been resistant to the concept of an EU-wide travel ban, with President Vladimir Putin’s official spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, described the proposition ‘irrational thought beyond the pale’ and said that attempts to isolate Russia had ‘no prospects’.
Peskov insinuated that the ban was akin to ‘sentiments that we heard literally 80 years ago from certain countries in the heart of Europe’ – an unsubtle attempt to compare the EU to the fascist regimes of the early 20th century.
He added that: “Zelenskiy should understand that European countries that are trying to punish Russia are actively paying the bills for it. Sooner or later, these countries will start asking whether Zelenskyy is doing everything right and why their citizens have to pay for his whims. I think common sense will eventually prevail and the people who made these statements will come to their senses.”