Estonia tightens Russian visa rules as Germany rules out strict travel measure amid war in Ukraine
Estonia said it will block entry to some 50,000 Russians who had been granted visas before the invasion began on Feb. 24. That’s on top of restrictions, also introduced in the Baltic states and the Czech Republic, on issuing new visas for travel, work or study.
Estonia issued tough new restrictions on visas for Russian nationals, reinforcing a call to ban entry for many into the European Union even as German Chancellor Olaf Scholz all but ruled out such a bloc-wide measure.
Calls are mounting among eastern member states that a new round of EU sanctions should include restrictions on Russian nationals entering the 27-member bloc. Ukraine’s top diplomat added his voice to those saying President Vladimir Putin’s invasion should have consequences for Russians wanting to travel west.
“Banning visas is the most efficient personal sanction,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told reporters Thursday in Kyiv. The sanctions shouldn’t affect those who don’t support Putin, he said. “There is always a mechanism for seeking political asylum.”
Estonia’s government said it will block entry to some 50,000 Russians who had been granted visas before the invasion began on Feb. 24. That’s on top of restrictions -- also introduced in the Baltic states and the Czech Republic-- on issuing new visas for travel, work or study.
Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, joined by Finnish counterpart Sanna Marin, this week called on member states to halt tourist visas. Kallas’ foreign minister said in an interview last week that a broad ban should be imposed.
But the German chancellor made clear that such a blanket measure went too far, saying he would have “difficulty” envisaging such a move.
“This is Putin’s war,” Scholz told reporters in Berlin when asked about banning visas, without elaborating.
EU ministers are expected to discuss the matter at a meeting later this month.
Baltic authorities have more urgently pressed the issue after seeing an influx of Russian travellers into the region since Moscow lifted Covid-19 restrictions in July. The EU’s Schengen area allows travellers with visas from other member states free passage through borders across the bloc.
“We have seen an enormous rise in the number of Russian citizens coming into or passing through Estonia,” Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu said in a statement. The influx is not in the spirit of existing sanctions, he said, adding that life should not continue as normal for ordinary Russian citizens.
Estonia issued an exemption for university students in their final year of study as well as for humanitarian considerations. Russians with long-term residency will also have an exemption.