The master of ceremonies is clear: it is an issue that divides the 27. The High Representative of the EU for Foreign Policy, Josep Borrell, has spoken about visas for Russian tourists upon his arrival at the meeting of foreign ministers , an open debate addressed by the EU at a meeting in Prague this Tuesday and Wednesday: “This is something that will have to be discussed. The positions are different, there are divergent positions: some Member States want a total ban, others simply want to work within the framework of the visa facilitation agreement [con terceros países de la UE]. I cannot anticipate the final result, but I am sure that we will be able to seek a balanced approach to this problem by being more selective”.
In fact, as Borrell expresses, there are a number of countries –mainly the Baltic countries and Poland– that are calling for a ban on the entry of Russian citizens into the EU, while other countries are committed to toughening their entry through the current concession framework of visas, also fine-tuning specific people who should not be allowed to enter –businessmen, those close to the Kremlin, etc.–.
In this regard, the Spanish Foreign Minister, José Manuel Albares, stated: “In the matter of visas, we must maintain a balance between ensuring that no one who participates in Vladimir Putin’s war effort can enter European soil and, at the same time, At the same time, make sure that we remain open to all those sectors of the population that want to engage in good faith with us, because those people are also the future of the peaceful relationship that the European Union wants to have with the Russian people. I think we can find the right balance. We must not forget that there are already many sanctions for all those who directly participate in this unjust war. And at the same time, we can still make them more effective.”
Pekka Haavisto, head of Finnish diplomacy, a country with 1,300 kilometers of border with Russia, stated: “We defend the postponement of the visa facilitation agreement, we have already made the decision to limit tourist visas to 10%. I hope we can reach unity on reducing the number of visas.”
Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs explained upon arrival at the meeting: “We expect a firm decision and discussion on how we are going to deal with visas for Russian citizens. We will insist on the visa ban for security reasons and also because we believe that at this time, while Ukraine is suffering, it would not be morally acceptable for Russians to still be visiting Europe on tourist visas. Knowing how the European Union works, I do not expect quick decisions, but at least a serious debate on the options, on the way forward and on the political orientation”.
Péter Szijjártó, Foreign Minister of Hungary, a country that has been resistant to Russian sanctions since the beginning of the invasion, has maintained: “I hope that here, when we enter this room, we will concentrate on decisions that bring peace and we will not confront any kind of proposals that escalate the war. So peace is our number one goal. Peace as soon as possible. I don’t think a visa ban is an appropriate decision under the current circumstances.”
Along the same lines, the Estonian minister, Urmas Reinsalu, defended the ban on Russian tourists: “We must clearly address the entry of citizens of the Russian Federation into the European Union. It has to end. From a moral perspective, from security and also from the scope of sanctions. Surely there should be a list of exceptions for diplomats and humanitarian representatives, as well as for the brave members of the civil resistance fighting Putin’s terror. As for private citizens, they should understand that there are consequences of war. What is paid for with your tax money are bombs that are now killing Ukrainian children, hospitals and kindergartens. Although the legal responsibility lies with Putin, the moral responsibility also lies with Russian society which, with its silence, passivity and acquiescence, have somehow legitimized the atrocities and genocide taking place in Ukraine.”
The Slovenian Tanja Fajon, stated, for her part: “We have reservations about the ban on tourist visas because we could harm citizens who want to flee the Russian regime. On the visa facilitation agreement we are more flexible. Let’s see how the discussion goes.”
Catherine Colonna, French Minister for European Affairs, has also expressed doubts: “In the matter of visas, it is important to know how to distinguish between the warmongers, first of all the Russian president, his entourage and all those who support his war effort. And on the other hand, Russian citizens, artists, students, journalists. The former are responsible for the war; the others don’t. And we want and must continue to have links with them. I would also like to remind that the Russian oligarchs are under individual sanctions, so they are not the ones who will come to do their shopping, neither in France nor in Europe.
Lithuanian Gabrielius Landsbergis, on the other hand, argued: “Lithuania’s position is that the number of tourists arriving in the European Union should be radically reduced, if not completely cancelled.”