Ukraine war: How many and which Russians are allowed into the EU? Compromise in visa dispute in sight

When the foreign ministers of the EU states discuss how to deal with Russian tourists this Wednesday, there will probably be bad news.

Ukraine war: How many and which Russians are allowed into the EU? Compromise in visa dispute in sight

When the foreign ministers of the EU states discuss how to deal with Russian tourists this Wednesday, there will probably be bad news. Because the borders for Russians are likely to close further in the near future. The only question is: how much. At issue is either suspending the visa-issuing agreement with Russia or at least restricting it. Some states want to continue as before, but this is the most unlikely solution. Reason: Large EU countries like Germany want neither a radical end for the previous practice nor a business as usual.

Most recently, Ukraine had called on the EU to close its borders to Russian citizens. The EU countries Estonia, Latvia, Finland and the Czech Republic have already closed their borders for them or are planning to do so, such as Poland. Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala spoke of the necessary "signals to Russian society" against the war for his country's EU Council Presidency. Many EU citizens are outraged that Russian nationals are traveling to the EU for shopping trips and holidays, while thousands are dying in Ukraine because of the war.

At its closed conference in Meseberg, the federal government is in favor of a compromise, which would correspond to a suspension of the European visa agreement with Russia. Such an approach could be a "quite good bridge" in the internal EU dispute over possible entry restrictions for Russians, said Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Greens). This regulation already exists, but officially only for business people, government officials and diplomats.

The suspension could allow EU states to significantly increase the costs and effort for applicants from Russia. According to Baerbock, the German proposal also means that multiple-entry visas that are valid for several years will no longer be issued. In addition, countries that are particularly affected should be able to check visa applications very carefully.

According to the EU border protection agency Frontex, around one million Russians have traveled to the EU overland since the beginning of the war in February, mostly as tourists. Since then, Germany has issued about 15,000 visas, about half as many as before the war. In the past few weeks, the demand for Schengen visas has increased by around 40 percent. Reason should be the discussion about the visa ban.

The CDU politician and MEP David McAllister expressed understanding for advocates of a hard course, but also warned against excessively far-reaching measures. "I understand that many Europeans find it difficult to see that these people are still enjoying the way we live in Europe, that they are vacationing in the Mediterranean or shopping in European cities." But a differentiated approach is needed in order to remain open to Russian citizens who have opposed "Vladimir Putin's dictatorship."

Annalena Baerbock sees it that way too. From a German perspective, however, not only journalists or well-known opposition figures, but also students, for example, should continue to have the opportunity to travel to the EU, said the Foreign Minister. Critical civil society should not be penalized. The Green politician takes part in the informal meeting of EU foreign ministers in Prague.

A Franco-German position paper on the meeting of foreign ministers goes even further by saying that one should not underestimate the influence that can come from direct experience of life in democracies. This applies in particular to future generations. "Our visa policy should reflect this and continue to allow people-to-people contacts with Russian nationals in the EU who are not associated with the Russian government," the paper said.

The Kremlin has threatened the EU with consequences in the event of an extensive entry ban for Russian citizens. Russia will not leave such a decision unanswered and will protect the interests of its citizens, spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to the state agency TASS. "This is a very serious decision that can go against our citizens." However, the EU states pursued different points of view, said Peskow, speaking of "anti-Russian impulses".

Sources: DPA, AFP

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