COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Estonian and Finnish leaders want other European countries to stop issuing tourist visas to Russian citizens, saying they shouldn’t be able to vacation in Europe while the Russian government is waging a war in Ukraine.
Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas wrote on Twitter on Tuesday that “visiting Europe is a privilege, not a human right” and that it is “time to end tourism from Russia now”.
A day earlier, his Finnish counterpart, Sanna Marin, had told Finnish TV channel YLE that “it is not right that Russia is waging an aggressive and brutal war of aggression in Europe, that the Russians can wage a normal life, traveling in Europe, being tourists.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy went further in an interview with The Washington Post on Monday, saying all Western countries should ban Russian tourists.
Estonia and Finland border Russia and are members of the European Union, which banned air travel from Russia after the invasion of Ukraine. But Russians can still travel overland to both countries and then apparently take flights to other European destinations.
Calls for a travel ban have sparked outrage in Russia, both from the Kremlin and its critics. Pro-opposition public figures condemned the comments in social media posts as fueling Moscow’s anti-Western propaganda and unnecessary to stopping the war.
“I think over time common sense will somehow come out, and those who made such statements will come to their senses,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday. .
YLE reported last week that Russian companies have started offering car trips from St. Petersburg to Helsinki and Lappeenranta airports in Finland, which have direct connections to several locations in Europe. Russia’s second largest city is about 300 kilometers (186 miles) from the Finnish capital.
Visas issued by Finland are valid in most of the European travel area, known as the “Schengen area” which is made up of 26 countries: 22 EU countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Normally, people and goods move freely between these countries without border controls. Nineteen other countries outside this travel zone allow foreigners using a Schengen visa.
Finland just resumed accepting tourist visa applications in Russia on July 1, lifting months-long travel restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some EU countries no longer issue visas to Russians, including Latvia, which made the decision this month due to the war.
The visa issue is expected to be discussed at an informal meeting of EU foreign ministers on August 31, YLE reported.
“I think that at the next meetings of the European Council, this question will come up even more strongly. My personal position is that tourism should be restricted,” Marin told the Finnish broadcaster.
Peskov said on Tuesday that calls for travel bans usually come from countries that Moscow has previously deemed “hostile” and that “many of those countries in their hostility are falling into oblivion.”
Putin’s close aide and deputy head of the Russian Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev, dismissed the Estonian prime minister’s statement, adding ominously: “I just want to remind him of another saying: ‘The fact that you are free does not is not your merit, but our fault.’”
Zelenskyy told the Washington Post that “the biggest sanctions are closing the borders” for Russian travelers, “because the Russians are taking somebody else’s land.”
Russians should “live in their own world until they change their philosophy,” Zelenskyy said, adding that such restrictions should apply to all Russians, even those who have left the country and oppose at war.
This contrasts with what he said in March, a month after Moscow sent troops to Ukraine, when he urged Russians to leave the country to avoid funding the war with their taxes.
Asked about Zelenskyy’s remarks, Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, called them a “statement … which speaks for itself”, which Moscow views “extremely negatively”.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine.
This story has been corrected to show Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s interview with The Washington Post took place on Monday, not Tuesday.
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