European Union (EU) nations were divided over whether to slap a broad visa ban on Russian citizens, torn between a desire to ramp up pressure on President Vladimir Putin and concern about punishing people who may not even support his war on Ukraine.
The 27-nation EU already tightened visa restrictions on Russian officials and business people in May, but calls have mounted from, notably, Poland and the Baltic countries — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — for a broader ban on tourists.
“There must be more restrictions on travel for Russian citizens,” Latvian Defense Minister Artis Pabriks said.
“We cannot simply give bonuses to people which are supporting such presidents as Putin,” he told reporters in Czech capital Prague, where EU defense and foreign ministers are meeting.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who is chairing the talks, has said that a visa ban on all Russian citizens is unlikely to be agreed on. Germany and France are leading a push to tighten visa restrictions, rather than impose an outright ban.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock expressed support for suspending more parts of the 2007 EU agreement with Russia, and to halt the issuing of multiple-entry or multi-year visas.
Finland’s foreign minister, Pekka Haavisto, said his country is worried about a kind of Russian “tourist route” through Helsinki airport. He said Finland will unilaterally slash the granting of tourist visas to Russians to 10% of their usual number from Sept. 1.
As of Thursday, Finland, which has the longest border with Russia of all EU countries, will only allow Russian citizens to apply for tourist visas on one day a week, and only in four cities in Russia.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday that Moscow was closely following the EU visa discussions and described them as part of Western moves against Russia that are “irrational and bordering on madness.” He warned that Moscow will retaliate if Russian citizens are targeted.