Copenhagen, Denmark — The leaders of Estonia and Finland want other European countries to stop issuing tourist visas to Russian citizens, saying they cannot take holidays in Europe while the Russian government is waging 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, her counterpart in Finland, Sanna Marin, told Finnish broadcaster YLE that “it is not right that while Russia is waging an aggressive, brutal war of aggression in Europe, Russians can live normal lives, travel in Europe, be tourists . .”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy continued in an interview with the Washington Post on Monday, saying that all Western countries should ban Russian tourists.
Estonia and Finland both border Russia and are members of the European Union, which banned air travel from Russia after it invaded Ukraine. But Russians can still travel overland to both countries and then apparently take flights to other European destinations.
The calls for a travel ban have sparked outrage in Russia, both from the Kremlin and its critics. Opposition-oriented public figures condemned the comments in social media posts as fuel for Moscow’s anti-Western propaganda and as useless in stopping the war.
“I think over time common sense will somehow manifest itself, and those who have 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 rides from St. Petersburg to Finland’s Helsinki and Lappeenranta airports, which have direct connections to several places in Europe. Russia’s second largest city is located about 300 kilometers (186 miles) from the Finnish capital.
Visas issued by Finland are valid in most of Europe’s travel area, known as the “Schengen Area”, which consists 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 area allow foreigners using a Schengen visa.
Finland just resumed accepting applications for tourist visas in Russia on July 1, lifting the months-long travel restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some EU countries are no longer issuing visas to Russians, including Latvia, which made that decision this month because of 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 this issue will be addressed even more strongly in future European Council meetings. My personal position is that tourism should be curbed,” Marin told the Finnish broadcaster.
Peskov said on Tuesday that calls for travel bans mostly come from countries Moscow has already deemed “hostile” and “many of those countries are being forgotten in their hostility.”
Putin’s close associate and deputy head of the Russian Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev, rejected the Estonian Prime Minister’s statement, adding ominously: “I just want to remind her of another statement: ‘The fact that you are free is not your merit, but our fault. ‘”
Zelenskyy told The Washington Post that “the main sanctions are to close the borders” to Russian travelers, “because the Russians are taking the land from someone else.”
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 the war.
It 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 financing the war with their taxes.
Asked about Zelenskyy’s comments, the Kremlin spokesman Peskov called them a “statement … that speaks for itself”, which Moscow considers “extremely negative”.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine.
This story has been corrected to show that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s interview with The Washington Post was on Monday, not Tuesday.
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