#UKRAINERUSSIAWAR. Europe closes for the Russians

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On 31 August, EU foreign ministers will discuss plans to amend the Schengen legislation. The aim is a ‘significant reduction’ in the issuing of visas to citizens of the Russian Federation, the media write. And as CNN points out even before the debate the EU cannot agree on a visa ban for Russian citizens, it is unlikely that the EU countries will come to such a decision. 

And thank goodness, one might say. Anyone in their fifties who has lived through the Shenghen era, that is to say, the transition from showing ID at every border to moving freely from one to another with trepidation and then joy, cannot watch this debate without disdain. The dream that has become reality, to move freely, is now in danger of being shattered by the manifest Russophobia of the Baltic republics: Estonia. Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine, Sweden, Finland, Denmark.

Finland has decided to impose its own visa restrictions on Russians, without waiting for a decision at European level. The Finnish Foreign Ministry will only allow Russian citizens to apply for tourist visas one day a week from September, the country’s Foreign Minister, Pekka Haavisto, was quoted by Reuters as saying. “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs determines the time quotas allocated for visa applications. Twenty per cent of the total time is reserved for tourists and 80 per cent for people travelling for non-tourist reasons,’ the minister said. Although, the Foreign Minister pointed out, Finland has no intention of cancelling Schengen visas already issued to Russian citizens. On 30 June, Finland had opened for Russian tourism. The head of the Finnish Foreign Ministry’s consular department Jussi Tanner, amidst a debate in Finland on the relevance of Russian tourists due to the special operation in Ukraine, proposed six options to limit tourism from Russia, the YLE Broadcasting Corporation reported: 1) The total suspension of visas for Russians, which is prohibited by EU law and Schengen rules. 2) Limiting the number of visa applications accepted, but this option is ineffective, as there are about 100 thousand Finnish multiple-entry visas in Russia alone. 3) Allow relatives of Finnish residents to enter the country for a good reason: for medical treatment, funerals and other similar circumstances. 4) Revoke all visas issued to Russians, which would hardly be legal under Finnish and EU rules.  5) Closing the border to passenger traffic, which could have political consequences due to public outcry and would not be supported by politicians. 6) A general EU decision, which is the line by which Finland declares its political direction.

On 16 August, Estonia closed the border at the Narva – Ivangorod crossing with Russia. According to the Estonian side, the traffic restrictions at the border with Estonia are related to software updates. The Estonian-Russian border near Ivangorod – Narva is closed indefinitely, carriers and citizens have to be aware of the situation, according to the website of the Northwest Customs Administration. The Estonian authorities stopped at 00:00 on 18 August the entry into the country of Russian citizens with Schengen visas issued by Estonian consular offices. At the same time, it was initially assumed that 131,000 Russians who had received Schengen visas in other European countries could enter the country. However, on 17 August, Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu announced that Estonia has the right to block the entry of Russian citizens with third-country visas. ‘The EU basic treaty allows member states to block the entry of Russian citizens,’ he said. It is not yet known what instructions the border service has actually received.

The Latvian Prime Minister stated that the republic’s authorities want to restrict the entry of Russians with Schengen visas from 16 August. He also stated that Russian citizens will not be granted residence permits. For now this decision is not official, a draft law from the Ministry of the Interior is awaited. On 18 August, the Ministry of the Interior of Latvia prepared amendments to the Immigration Law, which provide for the termination of the re-issue of temporary residence permits (permits) to citizens of Russia and Belarus until 30 June 2023, BNS reports. According to the amendments, citizens wishing to stay in Latvia in the future will have to apply for permanent resident status in the EU, confirming knowledge of the state language and sufficient financial resources. Latvia’s ruling coalition ‘agreed conceptually’ not to extend residence permits to Russian citizens and to limit their entry into the country with Schengen visas, Prime Minister Krisjanis Karinsh said. 11 thousand people could lose their residence permits in Latvia. Russian citizens have 9189 valid residence permits, of which 1820 were issued in connection with investments in the Latvian economy. Belarusian citizens have 2432 valid residence permits, of which 65 are related to investments. The Ministry of Internal Affairs is preparing amendments to the Immigration Law this week, which will allow Russian and Belarusian citizens not to renew their residence permits. The amendments will be formalised by a bill expected from the Ministry of the Interior.

Also on 16 August, the Lithuanian Foreign Minister, Gabrielius Landsbergis, called on the EU to cancel tourist visas for Russians. “The best option would be a pan-European decision to declare these visas invalid. Then everyone would simply stop issuing them,’ the minister said. 

Denmark joined the chorus of the blockade, saying it may also restrict the entry of tourists from Russia

Russians are rejected en masse for temporary residence and work permits in the Polish region on 17 August, local portal Trojmiasto reported, citing data from the Pomeranian Voivodeship Office in Gdańsk.

In southern Europe: Greece and Cyprus will not approve the ban on tourist visas for Russians. Remember that the EU needs the support of all members to adopt the initiative. Many countries have stopped accepting visa applications and some have imposed restrictions. 

This is the current situation: in Belgium you can only apply for a student visa, a researcher visa and a single-work visa. Bulgaria stopped issuing visas for Russian tourists and property owners today. Denmark. Visas are only issued for official visits. In the Netherlands a visa can be issued for humanitarian reasons. In the Czech Republic, only for family members of EU citizens.

Graziella Giangiulio