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The EU considers restricting visas for Russian citizens without passing a blanket veto | International

The European Union is already considering one more twist to the sanctions against Russia for the invasion of Ukraine. The foreign ministers will study in the meeting that they will hold this Tuesday and Wednesday in Prague how to restrict the delivery of visas to Russian citizens, especially tourist permits, according to several EU diplomatic sources. In this way, an intermediate solution would be reached that would reconcile the positions of the Member States that advocated the generic veto —essentially, the Baltic countries and Finland— and that of those who rejected it: Germany, Spain and the European Commission.

So far there have been six rounds of sanctions. Although there are also voices that interpret that there are actually five, because one of them, the last one, focused on closing the holes left by the previous ones and that were seen as they were applied. Be that as it may, these punishments have focused on hitting the Russian (and Belarusian) economy and the oligarchs who support the Vladimir Putin regime. Now, on the other hand, the European Union is opening a new path by also considering that Russian citizens pay for their country’s aggression against its smaller neighbor, as Estonian Prime Minister Katia Kallas declared last Friday in an interview with EL COUNTRY: “If Russia is waging war against an independent European country, then its citizens are also responsible for it. It is wrong that the Russians are enjoying their vacation while their country is at war.”

The data on Schengen visas granted to travel to the European free movement area in 2021 indicates that Russian citizens are the ones who benefit the most from this permit: they add up to 654,000 of the three million short-stay visas granted last year. However, these numbers continue to be greatly affected by the pandemic, as in 2019 a total of 17 million permits were granted and, of those, just over four million (23% of the total) came from the great neighbor to the east. These figures will most likely fall if the foreign ministers take this Wednesday – the day this matter will be addressed, although the meetings begin on Tuesday – the decision to toughen the entry rules for those arriving from Russia. The measure, in any case, should have a technical development by the ambassadors to the EU.

Estonia has probably been the Member State that has insisted the most in this debate that was opened by the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, with a column in an American newspaper calling for a veto on the granting of visas to Russian citizens interested in doing tourism in the rest of Europe. It was soon joined by the rest of the Baltic countries, including Finland, and other central and eastern European states, which have always maintained the most hostile positions towards Moscow: Poland and the Czech Republic.

Germany, on the other hand, immediately rejected this punishment. Foreign Minister Olaf Scholz pointed out that not all Russian citizens could pay for the decisions of their rulers, thus punishing innocents who also suffer from an autocratic regime. He found the support of the High Representative for Foreign Policy of the European Union, Josep Borrell. Also from Spain, France or Italy. This block of countries has argued in the debates that have preceded the meeting of foreign ministers this week that the total ban on the granting of visas to all Russian citizens conflicts with the Hague convention and that with this step arguments to the Russian president to support his victimizing discourse.

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“It is not a good idea to veto the granting of visas in any circumstance,” the high representative declared on Sunday in an interview with Austrian television. Borrell, like other leaders opposed to the idea of ​​establishing a generic ban, has recalled that since February the granting of visas to Russian citizens has been restricted.

To do so, the partial suspension of the agreement signed between Russia and the European Union in 2007 was resorted to, which makes the granting of entry permits in the Schengen zone cheaper and faster, that is, opening the door to movement through the 27 Member States. of the European Union. The solution that has been found to reconcile the two positions and maintain unity among all the partners has been to go deeper into the path started in February, as advanced this Sunday Financial Times.

That agreement marked a maximum price of 35 euros, facilitated the procedures and even streamlined multiple entry permits. In addition, under the umbrella of the pact between Brussels and Moscow reached 15 years ago, when a State grants a visa for entry into its territory, it also does so for the entire Schengen zone. All this would now be suspended and would give Member States room to be more or less restrictive with the entry of Russian citizens to their own territory as they wish. With the current regulation, if the framework agreement is frozen, any community partner can examine the visa granted to any person and, although it cannot veto it, it can prohibit entry into its territory, with which the affected party can no longer move around the Schengen zone.

The practical consequences of this arrangement would be that Russian citizens would find it very difficult to enter the European Union by land, because it is precisely the countries with which Moscow has borders that maintain a more restrictive position and those that demanded a general veto. In other words, it would no longer be possible to enter the EU by road and then catch a plane to go sightseeing on the Costa del Sol or in Sicily. The alternative would be, as long as countries like Spain or Italy do not harden their position, to take several flights through Belgrade or Turkey, since another of the sanctions that are applied is the prohibition for Russian airlines to fly over the skies of the community countries. .

The EU comes to this debate after six months of war in Ukraine and half a year after the first Western sanctions against Russia for the invasion. Coinciding with this semi-anniversary, voices have begun to be heard that doubt the effectiveness of these measures. These positions are reinforced by the secondary effects, in the form of inflation, that the European Union is suffering. Instead, the Twenty-seven bet on delving into the open road almost the day after the Moscow troops received the order to open fire.

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