EU to suspend visa deal with Russia, but not ban Russian tourists


European Union countries have reached a political agreement to suspend a visa facilitation deal with Russia, making it harder and more expensive for Russian tourists to obtain visas, but the move is far from over. general prohibition that some leaders require.

The compromise decision, taken at a meeting of ministers in Prague on Wednesday, comes after weeks of calls from Ukrainian officials and some European leaders for a ban. Although the 27-member bloc has already Russian flights banned EU airspace and imposed sanctions on more than 1,000 people linked to the war, the issue of tourism is deeply contested, highlighting a persistent divide over how to respond to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Announcing the agreement, the officials noted that countries could take additional steps at the national level. Ahead of the meeting, the five EU countries that share land borders with Russia – Poland, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – said they would take action if the EU did not. was not doing.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and some EU leaders have argued that restricting Russian visitors would tighten the bloc’s sanctions, improve security and send a message to Russians about the costs of a full-scale invasion.

Opponents, including Germany and France, say a blanket ban would unfairly punish all Russians. They fear that the visa limitation will prevent Kremlin critics from escaping. And they fear a ban could play into Putin’s favor by legitimizing his claims of Western Russophobia.

Ban Russian tourists? The EU is divided on visa restrictions.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Wednesday that an increase in the number of tourists from Russia had convinced member states that something had to be done. “We saw many Russians traveling for leisure and shopping as if there was no war raging in Ukraine,” he told reporters in Prague.

The suspension will significantly reduce the number of new visas issued, Borrell said. “It’s going to be more difficult, it’s going to be a longer process. Therefore, the number of new visitors will be significantly reduced.

The full suspension of the 2007 visa facilitation agreement, which was partially suspended at the start of the war, will mean that waiting times and costs are likely to increase for Russian tourists. The cost would increase from 35 euros to 80 euros (about the same in dollars). But the holidays, for many, can go on.

Countries calling for a total or near total ban see the suspension of the facilitation agreement as a first step, but will push for further action to be taken at EU level.

As flights are banned, most Russian tourists travel to neighboring countries, especially Finland and Estonia. From there, they can travel anywhere within the 26-country visa-free travel zone known as the Schengen Area.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said that in the absence of an EU-wide solution, Russia’s neighbors could team up to reduce the number of tourists entering the block.

In a joint statement released ahead of Wednesday’s talks, Poland, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania said that until the European Commission proposes measures to “decisively reduce” the number of Russians entering the EU and the Schengen areas, they would consider “temporary measures” at the national level. These measures should include exemptions for “dissidents as well as other humanitarian cases,” the statement said.

Lithuania is part of several countries, including Estonia, Latvia and the Czech Republic, which have stopped issuing most short-stay visas to Russian citizens.

Estonia said it would invalidate previously issued short-stay visas. Latvia requires Russian travelers entering on existing visas to sign statements opposing war with Ukraine – an idea Landsbergis has also addressed.

Finland, which shares an 830-mile border with Russia, has announced it will cut the number of visas issued to Russians by 90% starting this week.

Calls grow to ban EU visas for Russians, but not all Ukrainians agree

Ukrainian officials, meanwhile, remain focused on more restrictive measures. “Let them live in their own world until they change their philosophy,” Zelensky said in a interview with the Washington Post this month. “It’s the only way to influence Putin.”

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted on Wednesday that “travel to the EU has had no transformative effect on Russia.”

“Since visa facilitation in 2007, Moscow has attacked Georgia, launched a war against Ukraine, committed multiple crimes – all with overwhelming popular support,” he continued. “To transform Russia, close the door to Russian tourists.”

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