ARCHIV - 02.06.2016, Estland, Narva: Eine Frau hält in der estnischen Stadt Narva am Grenzübergang nach Russland ihren russischen Pass in den Händen. (zu dpa: "«Europa zu besuchen ist ein Privileg» - Einreiseverbot für Russen?") Foto: picture alliance / dpa +++ dpa-Bildfunk +++

Almost six months after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Estonia has given another political signal against the war of aggression. Since Thursday, Russian citizens can no longer enter the neighboring country, even if they already have a Schengen visa issued by Estonia. Russians who live in Estonia or have relatives there are not affected by the entry ban.

So far, entry bans at EU level have only applied to members of the political and economic elite in Russia due to the sanctions imposed on Moscow. However, the ban imposed by the government in Tallinn now also affects ordinary Russians such as tourists. A spokeswoman for the EU Commission made it clear on Thursday in Brussels that the Brussels authorities do not support a complete entry ban for all Russian citizens.

In the EU, visas are currently still being issued to Russian citizens, especially in humanitarian emergencies. The EU Commission is therefore ensuring, in discussions with the member states of the community, “that we act in a coordinated manner,” added the spokeswoman.

However, there can currently be no question of coordination in the EU on the visa issue. Because Estonia is not the only member country that rigorously rejects Russian citizens. The other two Baltic republics of Latvia and Lithuania have also restricted the entry of Russians. Poland also wants to heed the appeal of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who called for a general travel ban for Russian citizens.

In addition, Finland is planning restrictions on issuing visas to Russians from September 1st. Due to the cessation of air traffic since the start of the Ukraine war, Russia’s neighboring countries such as Finland are of particular importance for tourist trips from Russia, because visitors have to enter the EU by land.

However, Estonia’s entry ban for Russian tourists, for example, can be circumvented relatively easily – namely if they have a visa issued by Germany, with which they can then move freely in the Schengen area for up to 90 days. However, this is not without problems, because it now takes several weeks to issue Schengen visas in the consulates of EU countries in Russia. In 2019, the average processing time was just a few working days.

The example of Finland shows that the number of tourists from Russia has declined, where until the beginning of the corona pandemic there was a brisk border traffic for tourists from the neighboring country in the east. According to the Foreign Ministry in Helsinki, Finland issued just 16,000 visas to Russian citizens last month. In July 2019 there were still 92,100 visas.

However, the sharp drop in the number of tourists from Russia does not change the discussion at EU level as to whether a possible eighth package of sanctions could also include entry bans for Russians beyond the Kremlin area. A blanket visa ban for Russians would be legally untenable. However, graduated entry bans are conceivable, from which students or people with family members in EU countries could be exempted. In Brussels, the debate about the details is only just beginning. The Czech Republic, which currently holds the EU presidency, intends to put the issue on the agenda at the informal meeting of EU foreign ministers on August 31 in Prague.

According to the current status, Germany is one of the EU countries that are opposed to further restrictions on the issuing of visas. Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) explained at the beginning of the week after a meeting with Scandinavian prime ministers in Oslo why Germany is skeptical about a general entry ban for Russians in the EU: “This is Putin’s war, not the Russians’ war,” he said scholz

The fact that Germany is one of the brakemen in the EU sanctions debate is not new. For example, Berlin rejected an oil embargo in March, only to later agree to a delivery stop. However, this time the federal government will be supported in its course in issuing visas by representatives of the Russian opposition. The Kremlin opponent Vladimir Milov, a confidant of the imprisoned opposition politician Alexei Navalny, explained that a general visa ban would only play into the hands of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

It is still unclear what role the Czech Republic will play during the EU Presidency in the discussion about further possible travel restrictions. The government in Prague is actually obliged to be neutral because of its role in the EU presidency. Nevertheless, according to Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky, Prague supports the course of the Baltic states to deny Russian citizens access to the EU if possible.

Kaja Kallas was particularly clear in this regard. “Visiting Europe is a privilege, not a human right,” the Estonian Prime Minister said on Twitter. However, it is by no means certain whether the supporters of a tough course in visa policy have the majority among the EU countries.