In recent weeks, the topic of Russian travel into the European Union has become the subject of public debate in Estonia and Finland. Many Russians are taking advantage of the fact that the Finns lifted the pandemic restrictions this July as the opening of the Finnish-Russian border is an opportunity for them to use Finland as a transit point to other European countries.
The heads of government of Finland and Estonia are urging blockage of tourist visas for Russian citizens upon other European countries. Those actions have met with the opposition from the German Chancellor, who believes that ordinary citizens are not to blame for the current situation in Ukraine.
Germany is not the only one country in the European Union that hesitates to completely suspend tourist visas for Russian citizens. Also the European Commission has its reservations, seeing legal problems in a possible ban and raising humanitarian concerns particularly for the opposition representatives in Russia. However, several EU countries have already restricted the granting of visas to Russians and suspended the granting of short-term visas, which allowed tourists to enter quite easily.
In the current situation of the ongoing war in eastern Europe, maintaining tourist visas for citizens of the country that caused the war is unacceptable to the public and the main parties in Finland. The four largest parties in the Finnish parliament agree that maintaining the current system is immoral.
In addition, there has been pressure from the Baltic states, which is exerting considerable pressure on the Finnish government; it can accelerate the introduction of the restrictions. If Estonia and Finland are able to gain significant support in the European Union, their proposal will be included in the next package of sanctions against Russia.
However, there are exception, such as Finnish MP Kimmo Kiljunen, who opposed the idea of limiting or completely suspending visas for Russians. He reasoned that Finns and Russians should be able to maintain their personal relations. The Finnish MP believes that a complete suspension of visas will strengthen Vladimir Putin’s regime and significantly worsen Finnish-Russian relations and the international situation.
Meanwhile, in an interview with YLE, Prime Minister Sanna Marin claimed that “it’s not right that while Russia is waging an aggressive and brutal war, Russians can live normally, travel across Europe, be tourists.”
Moreover, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas believes that “visiting Europe is a privilege, not a human right.”
At Helsinki Airport, the Finnish news daily Helsingin Sanomat is running a campaign to display information and messages in Russian. Articles published in Russian revolve around the ongoing war in Ukraine and the impact of Western sanctions on the Russian economy. Furthermore, the screens display messages: “in our country, we talk about the war.” This campaign shows that the Finnish public want to communicate to the Russians its disapproval of the military actions in Ukraine.
It is worth mentioning that Estonia has no longer granted tourist and student visas to Russian citizens since July. It justifies its decision by emphasizing that Russia is threatening the country’s national security, which is a result of military action in Ukraine. Estonia realizes that if the idea of visa sanctions imposed by the European Union does not come through, then restrictions imposed only by the Baltic States and Poland will have much less effect and will be much less effective.
Currently among those supporting the idea of Estonia and Finland are the Baltic states (Latvia and Lithuania), Poland, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Denmark. However, this is not enough at this point to think about an EU-wide agreement.
Written by Mateusz Gibała – second-year student of political science at Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University in Warsaw, and a trainee at the Gabriel Szerszeniewicz Institute of Eastern Law. On a daily basis, he is passionate about the history of Poland and Europe, Scandinavian countries and the history of Polish Himalayanism.
The article was originally published in Polish at: https://liberte.pl/estonia-i-finlandia-chca-zaprzestac-wydawania-wiz-rosjanom/
Translated by Natalia Banaś