COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — The leaders of Estonia and Finland want fellow European countries to stop issuing tourist visas to Russian citizens, saying they should not be able to take vacations in Europe while the government of Russia carries out a war in Ukraine.
Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas wrote Tuesday on Twitter 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 a normal life, travel in Europe, be 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 by land to both countries and apparently are then taking flights to other European destinations.
YLE reported last week that Russian companies have started offering car trips from St. Petersburg to the airports of Helsinki and Lappeenranta in Finland, which have direct connections to several places in Europe. Russia’s second-largest city is about 300 kilometers (186 miles) from the Finnish capital.
Visas issued by Finland are valid across 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 checks. Nineteen other countries outside this travel area allow in foreigners using a Schengen visa.
Some EU countries no longer issue visas to Russians, including Latvia, which made that decision this month because of the war.
Tourist visas for Russians are expected be discussed at an informal meeting of EU foreign ministers on Aug. 31, YLE reported.
“I would believe that in future European Council meetings, this issue will come up even more strongly. My personal position is that tourism should be restricted,” Marin told the Finnish broadcaster.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Tuesday expressed hope that “common sense” will eventually prevail in European countries that are calling to bar Russians from traveling to the EU.
Peskov said proposals for such a ban are usually coming from countries Moscow has already deemed “hostile” and “many of those countries in their hostility sink into oblivion.”
“I think that over time, common sense will somehow manifest itself, and those who made such statements will come to their senses,” Peskov said.
Putin’s close associate and deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev, dismissed Kallas’ statement Tuesday in a social media post, adding ominously: “I just want to remind her of another saying: ‘The fact that you are free is not your merit, but our flaw.'”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy also aired a proposal against Russian tourism in an interview with The Washington Post published Tuesday. He said “the most important sanctions are to close the borders” for Russian travelers, “because the Russians are taking away 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's contrasts with what Zelenskyy said in March, a month after Moscow sent troops into Ukraine, when he urged Russians to leave the country to avoid funding the war with their taxes.
Asked about Zelenskyy’s remarks in The Washington Post, Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, called them a “statement ... that speaks for itself,” which Moscow views “extremely negatively.”
Follow AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine.
The Associated Press