The EU has been urged to introduce a travel ban for Russian tourists, with some member states saying visiting Europe is “a privilege, not a human right” for holidaymakers.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in an interview with The Washington Post that the “most important punishment” was to “close the borders, because the Russians are taking somebody else’s land.” Russians should “live in their own world until they change their philosophy”, he said.
The Ukrainian President’s call was backed by Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, who tweeted that visiting Europe was “a privilege, not a human right”, adding: “It’s time to end tourism from from Russia. Stop issuing tourist visas to Russians.
Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin expressed the same frustrations, telling state broadcaster YLE that it was “not fair that while Russia is waging an aggressive and brutal war of aggression in Europe, the Russians can live a normal life, travel in Europe, be tourists.”
Finland has previously said an increasing number of Russians have started crossing the 830-mile border between the two countries to shop at border shops and travel to other EU destinations since the lifting of restrictions on Covid.
The EU banned air travel from Russia after Moscow invaded Ukraine in February and the last passenger rail link, between St Petersburg and Helsinki, was suspended in March, but Russians can still enter in Finland by road.
Finland released a plan last week to limit tourist visas for Russians, but questioned its legal right to impose an outright ban, while other countries in the Schengen passport-free zone that share a border with Russia, such as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, have already significantly tightened visa rules.
But all stressed the need for an EU-level decision on the issue since a visa issued by one member of the zone cannot be refused by others – meaning that ordinary Russians not targeted by individual sanctions can use their neighboring countries as transit areas for the border. – free travel throughout the region.
Bulgaria’s acting tourism minister Ilin Dimitrov said on Wednesday that more than 50,000 Russians – mostly property and apartment owners, and often passing through Istanbul – had visited the country by the end of June. “Obstacles and expensive tickets don’t stop them,” he said.
EU foreign ministers are due to discuss the issue when they meet in the Czech Republic at the end of August. “At the next meetings of the European Council, this issue will come up even more strongly,” Marin said. “My personal position is that tourism should be restricted.”
Other countries, however, are not so sure. Some with traditionally close ties to Russia, such as Hungary, would be likely to strongly oppose a ban, while member states with large Russian communities such as Germany argue the move would divide families and penalize opponents. to war who have already left.
The European Commission has also questioned the feasibility of a blanket travel ban, saying certain categories of travelers – including family members, journalists and dissidents – should be granted visas under all circumstances.
Calls by Ukraine and some member states for the EU to impose the blanket ban drew an angry response from the Kremlin. “Any attempt to isolate Russia or the Russians is a process that has no prospects,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday, adding that it showed an “irrationality of thinking” that was “ out of the ordinary”.