Estonia and Finland want Europe to abolish Russian tourist visas

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — The leaders of Estonia and Finland want European countries to stop issuing tourist visas to Russian citizens, saying they should not be able to vacation in Europe while the Russian government wages 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 and brutal war of aggression in Europe, Russians can live a normal life, travel through 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 has banned air travel from Russia. after he invaded Ukraine. But the Russians can still travel overland to both countries and are apparently taking flights to other European destinations afterwards.

Calls for a travel ban have sparked outrage within Russia, both from the Kremlin and its critics. Opposition-minded public figures condemned the comments on the social media posts as fueling Moscow’s anti-Western propaganda and being useless in stopping the war.

“I think that over time, common sense will somehow manifest itself, 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 rides from St. Petersburg to Helsinki and Lappeenranta airports in Finland, which have direct connections to various 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 Europe’s travel zone, known as the “Schengen area,” which is made up of 26 countries: 22 EU nations 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 the entry of foreigners with a Schengen visa.

Finland resumed accepting tourist visa applications in Russia on July 1, lifting travel restrictions imposed for months during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some EU countries no longer issue 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 that in future meetings of the European Council, this issue will come up even more forcefully. My personal position is that tourism should be restricted,” Marin told the Finnish broadcaster.

Peskov said Tuesday that calls for travel bans usually come from countries that Moscow has already deemed “hostile” and “many of those countries sink into oblivion in their hostility.”

Putin’s close aide and Russian Security Council deputy chief Dmitry Medvedev dismissed the Estonian prime minister’s statement, ominously adding: “I just want to remind you of another saying: ‘The fact that you are free is not your merit, but our fault. . ‘”

Zelenskyy told The Washington Post that “the most important sanctions are to close the borders” for Russian travelers, “because the Russians are taking someone 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 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 the Russians to leave the country to avoid financing the war with their taxes.

Asked about Zelenskyy’s comments, Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, called them a “statement … that speaks for itself” that Moscow views “extremely negatively.”

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine.

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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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