Monday , October 3 2022

EU under pressure to ban Russian tourists from Europe

The EU has been urged to introduce a travel ban on Russian tourists with some member states saying visiting Europe was “a privilege, not a human right” for holidaymakers.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in an interview with the Washington Post that the “most important sanction” was to “close the borders, because the Russians are taking away someone else’s land”. Russians should “live in their own world until they change their philosophy”, he said.

The Ukrainian president’s call was backed by Estonia’s prime minister, Kaja Kallas, who tweeted that visiting Europe was “a privilege, not a human right”, adding: “Time to end tourism from Russia. Stop issuing tourist visas to Russians.”

Finland’s prime minister, Sanna Marin, has aired the same frustrations, telling 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 in Europe, be tourists.”

Finland has previously said that increasing numbers of Russians have begun crossing the 830-mile border between the two countries to shop in border stores and travel onwards to other EU destinations since Covid restrictions were lifted.

The EU banned air travel from Russia after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February and the last passenger rail link, between St Petersburg and Helsinki, was suspended in March, but Russians can still enter Finland by road.

Finland last week issued a plan to limit tourist visas for Russians, but has questioned its legal right to impose an outright ban, while other Schengen passport-free zone countries that share a border with Russia, such as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, have already dramatically tightened visa rules.

But all have emphasised the need for an EU-level decision on the matter since a visa issued by one member of the zone cannot be refused by others – meaning that ordinary Russians not targeted by individual sanctions can use their neighbouring countries as transit zones for border-free onward travel across the region.

Bulgaria’s acting tourism minister, Ilin Dimitrov, said on Wednesday that more than 50,000 Russians – mainly property and apartment owners, and often travelling via Istanbul – had visited the country by the end of June. “The obstacles and expensive tickets do not stop them,” he said.

EU foreign ministers are set to discuss the matter when they meet in the Czech Republic at the end of August. “In future European council meetings, this issue will come up even more strongly,” Marin said. “My personal position is that tourism should be restricted.”

Other countries, however, are not so sure. Some with traditionally close ties to Russia, such as Hungary, would be likely to strongly oppose a ban, while member states with large Russian communities such as Germany argue that the move would divide families and penalise opponents of the war who have already left.

The European Commission has also questioned the feasibility of a blanket travel ban, saying certain categories of travellers – including family members, journalists and dissidents – should be granted visas in all circumstances.

The calls from Ukraine and some member states for the EU to impose the blanket ban has drawn an angry response from the Kremlin. “Any attempt to isolate Russia or Russians is a process that has no prospects,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday, adding that it displayed an “irrationality of thinking” that was “off the charts”.

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