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EU toughens travel rules for Russians

31.08.2022 23:45
European Union foreign ministers on Wednesday decided to make it harder for Russians to obtain visas to travel to the bloc, but stopped short of approving an EU-wide visa ban that some member states including Poland had advocated.
Josep Borrell.
Josep Borrell. PAP/EPA/Martin Divisek

The decision was made at an informal meeting of EU top diplomats in the Czech capital Prague, Polish state news agency PAP reported.

Suspension of EU-Russia visa facilitation deal

The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, told reporters afterwards that the ministers had approved a “full suspension of the European Union-Russia Visa Facilitation Agreement.”

He added that “it will significantly reduce the number of new visas issued by the EU member states.”

Borrell stated that, following the suspension of the visa facilitation deal, the process "is going to be more difficult, it is going to be longer, and consequently, the number of new visas will be substantially reduced."

He added: “This is a common approach, and a common approach will prevent a potential ‘visa shopping’ by Russians – going here and there, trying to look for the better conditions.”

Poland, Baltics, Finland to consider ‘national measures’

Meanwhile, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland, which have land borders with Russia, welcomed the suspension of the visa facilitation deal as a "necessary first step," but said that more was needed to be done to "drastically" limit the numbers of visas issued and Russians travelling to the EU, the Reuters news agency reported. 

"Until such measures are in place on the EU level, we ...will consider introducing on the national level temporary measures of visa ban, or restricting border crossing for Russian citizens holding EU visas, in order to address imminent public security issues," the five countries said in a joint statement.

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky stated that the bloc’s executive, the European Commission, would “look at ways to go further,” including what can be done with about 12 million visas already issued for Russians to the EU’s 26-country passport-free Schengen zone, according to Reuters.

‘Security risk’

Explaining Wednesday’s decision, Borrell told reporters that “since the middle of July, we have seen a substantial increase of border crossings from Russia into the neighbouring [EU member] states.”

He said: “This has become a security risk for these neighbouring [EU member] states. In addition to that, we have seen many Russians travelling for leisure and shopping, as if no war was raging in Ukraine.” 

According to the EU’s border agency Frontex, more than 1 million Russian citizens have entered the bloc through land border crossings, mostly via Finland and Estonia, since Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine in late February.

Kyiv has repeatedly said that ordinary Russians must also pay for the invasion, which has killed thousands of civilians, according to the United Nations, and destroyed cities.

Earlier on Wednesday, Ukraine’s top diplomat Dmytro Kuleba renewed a call for an EU visa ban, saying it would be "an appropriate response to Russia's genocidal war of aggression in the heart of Europe supported by an overwhelming majority of Russian citizens," as cited by Reuters.

France, Germany against EU-wide visa ban

France and Germany remain opposed to such a move, however. 

"We caution against far-reaching restrictions on our visa policy, in order to prevent feeding the Russian narrative and triggering unintended rallying-around the flag effects and/or estranging future generations," Paris and Berlin said in a joint memo, the Reuters news agency reported.

Wednesday was day 189 of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.


Source: IAR, PAP, Reuters, eeas.europa.eu