EU complicates travel rules for Russians but balks at visa ban

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PRAGUE, Aug 31 (Reuters) – EU foreign ministers decided on Wednesday to make it more expensive and longer for Russians to obtain visas to travel to the bloc, but did not agree to the EU-wide visa ban imposed by Ukraine and several member states. call for.

The EU was too divided to agree at this stage on a general ban, nor did it specify what unilateral measures Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Finland, which have land borders with Russia, could take to restrict access to Russian visitors.

These five countries welcomed the suspension of Russia’s visa facilitation agreement as a step in the right direction, but four of them stressed that more must be done to “drastically” limit the number of visas issued and Russians traveling in the bloc since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. in February.

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“Until such measures are in place at EU level, we … will consider introducing at national level temporary visa bans or border crossing restrictions for Russian citizens holding visas. an EU visa, in order to solve the looming public security issues,” Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland said in a joint statement.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said Moscow would not leave the decision “without consequences”, according to RIA news agencies.

“If Brussels decides to shoot itself in the foot again, that’s their choice,” he said.

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky said the EU’s Executive Commission would indeed consider ways to go further, including what can be done with what Lipavsky said is around 12 million visas Schengen already issued to Russians – referring to the area of ​​26 countries with open borders.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell argued that the suspension of the visa facilitation agreement will in itself already have a real impact.

“It will significantly reduce the number of new visas issued by EU member states. It’s going to be more difficult, it’s going to take longer,” he told a press conference afterward. of a two-day meeting of EU foreign ministers in Prague.

Borrell said a substantial increase in border crossings from Russia to neighboring states since mid-July had made it necessary to suspend the visa facilitation agreement.

“SECURITY RISK”

“It has become a security risk for these neighboring states,” he added. “On top of that, we saw many Russians traveling for leisure and shopping as if no war was raging in Ukraine.”

More than a million Russian citizens have entered the bloc through land border crossings since the invasion of Ukraine began, most via Finland and Estonia, the border agency Frontex said. Read more

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

Earlier Wednesday, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba reiterated calls for an EU visa ban, saying it would be “an appropriate response to Russia’s genocidal war of aggression in the heart of the world.” ‘Europe, supported by an overwhelming majority of Russian citizens’. Read more

But France and Germany disagreed.

“We caution against sweeping restrictions on our visa policy, to avoid fueling the Russian narrative and triggering unintended rallying around flag effects and/or alienating future generations,” they said. they stated in a joint note.

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Additional reporting by Sabine Siebold, Jason Hovet, Bart Meijer and Gabriela Baczynska; Written by Ingrid Melander; Editing by John Chalmers, Nick Macfie and Mark Porter

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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