Whether to close entry to Europe for all Russians is a question that has suddenly given rise to disagreements within the European Union. It should be finally resolved on August 31 at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Prague, but for now the parties put forward their arguments. On Tuesday, August 23, the position of EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell became known, saying that he does not support proposals for a complete ban on issuing visas to Russian citizens.
Recall that having a “Schengen” in your passport, you can get into any country within the EU, since there is no passport control between states. In connection with the conflict in Ukraine, its president demanded that the EU close its borders not only for Russian politicians and businessmen who fell under “personal sanctions”, but also for all holders of a Russian passport, without exception, so that they “live in their own world until change their philosophy.” Unconditionally, this call was supported by the three ex-Soviet Baltic republics and the former socialist camp represented by Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The rest have been either arguing or keeping quiet for two weeks now.
So, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia completely stopped issuing Schengen visas to all Russians without exception. Since August 1, Latvia has also suspended the agreement on “cross-border” traffic – admission through land borders, and Estonia has banned the entry of Russians with visas issued by its own visa services, and is now considering the possibility of introducing a ban on the admission of Russians with Schengen visas issued by other countries EU. All three Baltic republics also called on other EU countries to make similar decisions and not only stop issuing visas, but also cancel those already issued.
Finland, which has the longest land border with the Russian Federation, went for partial restrictions in issuing visas to Russians, choosing the “slow down” method, since a complete ban on the basis of “passport affiliation” is impossible under Finnish law. Now the Finns will issue 90% fewer visas to Russians – that is, if earlier 1000 applications were processed per day, now there will be only 100, and applications for tourist visas will be accepted only once a week.
The “abstentions”, according to the visa mediators, can be classified as those who remained silent (Sweden and Denmark, without publicly expressing their own position, said that they would wait for a common decision of the EU), and those who spoke out, but did nothing. So the former socialist camp – Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic – declared their support for a ban on entry to all citizens of the Russian Federation without exception, and the latter expressed its intention to suspend visa agreements along with Belarus. But earlier this week, the Czech Republic, which currently holds the EU presidency, suddenly added that “Russian journalists and civilians who disagree with what is happening” should be made an exception. In fact, all these countries have so far denied Russians visas only on an individual basis – that is, seeking alleged violations from each Russian Schengen holder separately, but they have not refused massively and publicly, like, say, Estonia. The Netherlands, Belgium and Malta are following the same path.
From the former socialist camp, Hungary is not ready to refuse visas to Russians. This week, the position was taken by Portugal, whose Foreign Ministry said that the so-called “passport sanctions” – that is, the refusal of a visa based on a passport – should be directed against the “Russian military machine”, and not against innocent Russians.
Germany, through its chancellor, was the first to express its doubts, noting that “extending measures to innocent Russian tourists would reduce the effectiveness of the sanctions that have been imposed so far.”
A similar German position was taken by Cyprus, not only beloved by Russian tourists, but also having a high percentage of the Russian-speaking population permanently residing on the island (and investments from it). In the person of its Foreign Ministry, Cyprus said that a complete ban on the entry of Russians “would be the wrong decision.” “We believe in contacts between people, and even Turkish citizens receive visas from the Cypriot authorities,” said Secretary General of the Cypriot Foreign Ministry Cornelios Corneliou in an interview with the Western press.
Greece has repeatedly declared its support for Ukraine, however, according to its officials, “it also does not consider the possibility of changing the status of Russian visas.” The secret, apparently, is in the income of the tourism industry: against the backdrop of geopolitical upheavals, the flow of Russians to Greece increased (in July, there were 177% more arrivals of Russians by air (via Turkey) than in 2019, which is considered a “record” for Greek tourism). And the number of arrivals of Russians to Greece by land has grown by as much as 257%, because now they come by car from Serbia.
The United States, although it seems that they have nothing to do with the EU and the Schengen Agreement, but on a painful occasion, in the person of its State Department, also spoke out, stating that it is necessary “to draw a line between the policy of the leadership of the Russian Federation and ordinary citizens of the country.”