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The EU will completely suspend an agreement concluded with Russia to facilitate the issuing of visas for travellers. The step will ensure that the number of new visas for Russians drops significantly, said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Wednesday after the foreign ministers’ consultations in Prague. In particular, people in need of protection should still be able to get a visa.

“We don’t want to cut ourselves off from the Russians who are against the war in Ukraine, we don’t want to cut ourselves off from Russian civil society,” Borrell stressed.

The suspension of the visa agreement is another punitive measure taken by the EU in response to Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, which has been going on for more than half a year.

The move aims to make entry restrictions for Russians easier for the member states and to increase the costs and effort for applicants.

For example, the basic setting of the visa fee at 35 euros will no longer apply, and the standard processing time of ten calendar days after receipt of the application will no longer apply.

Federal Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Greens) said that in future it could take months for Russians to submit applications. At the same time, according to them, it will still be possible to allow students and journalists to enter the country, for example.

The aim is also to prevent people from turning against the EU rather than against their own president out of frustration about Western sanctions.

So far, the visa facilitation agreement that came into force in 2007 has only been suspended for business people, government officials and diplomats. This decision was made on February 25, shortly after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The suspension of the visa agreement was also largely driven by Germany and is considered a minimal compromise in the EU dispute that has been going on for weeks about how visa applications from Russian nationals should be handled.

Countries like Poland and Estonia would have actually wished to at least completely ban Russian vacation and shopping trips to the EU – arguing, among other things, that rich young Russian men couldn’t go on vacation in the EU while in the Ukraine Thousands of young Ukrainian men are dying in their country’s war.

Countries like Germany and France, however, argued that the Russian people should not be held in kinship custody for Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine. For example, young Russians in particular should continue to be able to travel through Europe.

The influence that can emanate from direct experience of life in democracies should not be underestimated, argued Germany and France recently in a joint position paper on the EU’s Russia policy. This applies in particular to future generations.

Politicians such as Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg also argued that state restrictions on press freedom in Russia do not allow people to consume independent reporting on the Ukraine conflict.

In order to meet the representatives of a tough course, it should now at least be examined whether some of the approximately ten million multiple-entry visas with a validity period of several years could be declared invalid. In addition, it was once again stated that passports issued in Russian-occupied Ukrainian territories will not be recognised.

It is unclear whether the suspension of the visa agreement will have a significant impact on the number of entry permits for Russians issued by German authorities. According to information from government circles, around 15,000 Schengen visas for entry into Germany were issued by German authorities between the beginning of January and mid-August this year.

This number is already well below the average before the corona pandemic. According to the information, around 30,000 Schengen visas per month were issued to Russians in 2019. These apply to short stays in the Schengen area, which includes Germany and 25 other European countries.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke out in principle in favor of visa restrictions for Russians. “Visa restrictions will make Russian citizens understand that freedom is something they must fight for,” he said via video link at a conference in Prague.

Another topic during the deliberations of the EU foreign ministers was a possible eighth package with classic EU sanctions against Russia. Suggestions have been made, Baerbock said on the sidelines of the meeting, without giving details.

After the most recent deliberations at the level of the G7 group of the leading democratic economic powers, however, the German government is likely to press for the introduction of an international upper price limit for Russian oil.

In Prague, Baerbock also campaigned for new EU guidelines for dealing with Russia. Since there will be no going back before February 24, a “strategic reorientation” of Russia policy is needed, said the Green politician, alluding to the start of the Russian attack on Ukraine.