Russians Face Tourism Hurdles In Europe As EU Adds Journey Regulations

Russians traveling to the European Union will have to pay more and withstand additional bureaucracy to obtain a short-term visa, according to a compromise solution aimed at allaying member states’ differences on how far restrictions should go.

The Czech government, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, will propose fully suspending visa-facilitation agreements with Russia and Belarus at a meeting of foreign ministers in Prague next week, according to Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky.

That move would fall short of a ban for tourists called for by members including Estonia in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It would still allow Russians and Belarusians to apply for short-term entry. But it would increase processing times for visas, require more documentation and raise costs to 80 euros ($80) from 35 euros.

Germany is among governments that have pushed back on the kind of across-the-board visa restrictions backed by the Baltic states, who have complained about an influx of Russian tourists this summer since Moscow lifted Covid-19 restrictions in July. Lipavsky acknowledged this week that member states were divided on this issue.

“Receiving a European tourism visa is a privilege, not a human right,” Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas told journalists in Tallinn on Thursday, saying that a ban would primarily hit Russia’s “elite” traveling from Moscow and St. Petersburg. “These are people who have a greater influence on the governing regime,” Kallas said.

Officials expect a tough debate in Prague over the scope of restrictions, with Germany, Austria, and southern EU nations that rely on tourism likely to push back. One official said that fully suspending the facilitation agreement was a first necessary step, but that Estonia would want to see more done at the EU level.

The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said earlier this week that forbidding entry to all Russians is “not a good idea,” pointing to many Russian nationals who want to flee their country. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also poured cold water on a full ban this month, saying: “This is Putin’s war.”

But leaders in the EU’s northeast have taken a harder stance. With flights between Russia and the EU grounded, authorities in the region have seen Russian travelers crossing by land into Finland, Estonia and Latvia — many entering on visas issued by other EU member states.

The visa-free Schengen area allows access to the entire bloc. So Baltic governments are mulling how to block entry to Russian citizens traveling on Schengen visas issued by other European nations. Authorities in the Czech Republic, Denmark and Poland have also called for harder restrictions.

The EU imposed a number of visa restrictions after Russia’s invasion began on Feb. 24, including partial suspension of visa-facilitation agreements for Russian officials. In practice, most EU countries have also had fewer resources to process visas because a swathe of diplomats have been expelled.

Some members have also taken unilateral action. Estonia has blocked Russian visas already issued — and may seek ways to restrict travelers with Schengen visas. Finland has imposed drastic restrictions on tourist visas, reducing those issued to around 10% of the current number.

EU foreign ministers in Prague won’t issue formal conclusions, with any decision giving political momentum toward a formal EU proposal. Any firm measures wouldn’t be finalized for weeks, long after most summer vacations have ended.

Baltic leaders have already signaled they may push a regional ban on Russian visas if the EU falls short on a firm response. Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda pushed back on the notion that costs shouldn’t be imposed on the Russian people for the invasion.

“We’re deceiving ourselves today that this is Putin’s war and that the Russian nation has nothing to do with it,” Nauseda told reporters in Vilnius on Wednesday. “Alas, this is not the case, the Russian people support the war.”

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