Estonia and Finland want Europe to end Russian tourist visas

Copenhagen, Denmark — The leaders of Estonia and Finland want other European countries to stop issuing tourist visas to Russian citizens, saying they should not be able to vacation in Europe while the Russian government is waging war in Ukraine.

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas wrote on Twitter on Tuesday that “visiting Europe is a privilege, not a human right” and that it is “time to end tourism from Russia now”.

A day earlier, his Finnish counterpart, Sanna Marin, told Finnish TV station YLE that “it is not right that while Russia is waging an aggressive and brutal war of aggression in Europe, the Russians can lead a normal life, travel to Europe, be tourists.”

Estonia and Finland border Russia and are members of the European Union, which banned air travel from Russia after the invasion of Ukraine. But Russians can still travel overland to both countries and then apparently take flights to other European destinations.

YLE reported last week that Russian companies have started offering car trips from St. Petersburg to Helsinki and Lappeenranta airports in Finland, which have direct connections to several locations in Europe. Russia’s second largest city is about 300 kilometers (186 miles) from the Finnish capital.

Visas issued by Finland are valid in most of the European travel area, known as the “Schengen area” which is made up of 26 countries: 22 EU countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Normally, people and goods move freely between these countries without border controls. Nineteen other countries outside this travel zone allow foreigners using a Schengen visa.

Some EU countries no longer issue visas to Russians, including Latvia, which made the decision this month due to the war.

Tourist visas for Russians are expected to be discussed at an informal meeting of EU foreign ministers on August 31, YLE reported.

“I think that at the next meetings of the European Council, this question will come up even more strongly. My personal position is that tourism should be restricted,” Marin told the Finnish broadcaster.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Tuesday expressed hope that “common sense” will eventually prevail in European countries calling for a ban on Russians traveling to the EU.

Peskov said proposals for such a ban usually come from countries that Moscow has previously deemed “hostile” and “many of these countries in their hostility sink into oblivion.”

“I think that over time common sense will somehow come out, and those who made such statements will come to their senses,” Peskov said.

Putin’s close aide and deputy head of the Russian Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev, dismissed Kallas’ statement on Tuesday in a social media post, adding ominously: “I just want to remind him of another saying: ‘The fact that you are free is not your merit, but our fault.’”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy also aired a proposition against Russian tourism in an interview with The Washington Post published on Tuesday. He said “the most important sanctions are closing the borders” for Russian travellers, “because the Russians are taking someone else’s land.”

Russians should “live in their own world until they change their philosophy”, Zelenskyy said, adding that such restrictions should apply to all Russians, even those who have left the country and oppose at war.

This contrasts with what Zelenskyy said in March, a month after Moscow sent troops to Ukraine, when he urged Russians to leave the country to avoid funding the war with their taxes.

Asked about Zelenskyy’s remarks in The Washington Post, Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, called them a “statement … that speaks for itself”, which Moscow views “extremely negatively”.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine.

Mary I. Bruner