The countries of the European Union closest to Russia —and those that share the most kilometers of border with the country— are calling for a greater hardening of European policy towards the great neighbor to the east. The Latvian Parliament has passed a resolution declaring Russia a “State Sponsor of Terrorism”. Estonia announced on Tuesday that it will tighten the granting of visas to Russian citizens, thus joining the position maintained by Lithuania since the war in Ukraine began, which only grants travel permits to Russian citizens for humanitarian reasons. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister of Finland, Sanna Marin, has been calling for days from the EU partners to tighten sanctions on Russia.
The debate on a new twist in the European Union’s sanctions against Moscow for invading Ukraine has opened with a very summery element. Tourist visas for Russian citizens. The positions are already drawing. And most likely they will be addressed at the end of August at the meeting that the EU foreign ministers will hold in Prague. “I want to bring up the issue of visas for Russian citizens during the informal meeting to be held in Prague at the end of August,” Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsk announced Thursday.
Estonia’s position in that meeting will be clear. Its prime minister, Kaja Kalas, demanded on Tuesday that tourist visas be stopped for Russian citizens, arguing that “visiting Europe is a privilege, not human rights.” She joined, along with Finland, the request made by the Ukrainian president, Volodímir Zelenski, on Sunday.
In an article published in the American newspaper Washington PostZelenksi called for a ban on entry to Western countries for all Russian citizens. The Kremlin replied on Tuesday that this proposal “exceeds all limits.” “Any attempt to isolate the Russians or Russia is an initiative that has no prospects,” said Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri Peskov.
Stop issuing tourist visas to Russians. visiting #Europe is a privilege, not a human right. Air travel from UK is shut down. It means while Schengen countries issue visas, neighbors to Russia carry the burden (FI, EE, LV – sole access points). Time to end tourism from Russia now
— Kaja Kallas (@kajakallas) August 9, 2022
In response, the European Commission has recalled that the competence to decide on the issuance of tourist visas belongs to each Member State. However, the spokeswoman for Internal Affairs of the European Executive has urged that these entry permits be maintained in specific circumstances. “Member States must respect their international obligations and ensure that there are visas that are always granted, such as humanitarian and family, journalists or dissidents.”
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A few hours later, Estonia has picked up the glove and announced that it is restricting the granting of visas. “Estonia has decided not to accept more people from Russia, who are holders of a visa issued by Estonia, to enter the country. I call on other governments to follow these steps,” Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu announced on Twitter. According to him, in recent months the number of Russian citizens crossing into his country has increased a lot. “This is not in line with our purposes,” he added.
The position of the Baltic republics has found this Thursday the forceful opposition of Germany. In the traditional summer press conference offered by the German heads of government, Olaf Scholz rejected this sanction on the grounds that the invasion of Ukraine “is the war of [Vladímir] Putin”. With this phrase, the German chancellor points to the Russian president as being ultimately responsible for the aggression. Restricting access to all Russian citizens would mean instead targeting “the entire population, including the innocent,” he added.
As soon as the war began, the European Union already suspended the agreements it had with Moscow to easily process visas. The measure affected diplomats, but above all the more than 1,000 people close to the Kremlin who appear among those sanctioned.
The front of entry permits in the Schengen area is just one of those that have opened these days from the shores of the Baltic. The Latvian Parliament has declared Russia this Thursday as a state promoter of terrorism. The declaration has met with a quick response from Moscow, which has described it as xenophobic. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zajárova accused the Latvian Parliament of being guided by “bestial xenophobia” for approving a declaration calling Russia a state sponsor of terrorism and encouraging other countries to pass similar initiatives. “If you take into account that there are no facts, beyond a bestial xenophobia, on which this decision is based, you can only call their neo-Nazi ideologues,” the spokeswoman wrote on her Telegram channel.
The third road that opens from the north also this Thursday is the distance between Riga and Tallinn with China, which until now has maintained a position of calculated ambiguity leaning towards Russia with Ukraine. In line with what Lithuania had already done, Latvia and Estonia have decided to leave the cooperation mechanism that several Central and Eastern European countries maintained with China in the so-called new Silk Road, the great infrastructure and financing project with which the Asian giant seeks to expand its influence in the world.