Baltic states could make it harder for Russians to enter the EU
The Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania announced Wednesday that they intend to block Russian citizens from entering their countries.
Why it matters: The move would seriously complicate the ability of Russians with Schengen visas to enter the European Union. The visas allow holders to travel freely within the bloc.
- Flights between Russia and the EU were canceled after the invasion of Ukraine, meaning visa holders have few options to enter the union.
- Russians have been able to travel by land to neighboring countries and then catch flights to other European destinations — but the Baltic nations' agreement would further limit their options.
While Estonia last month issued a lighter ban on Russians with travel visas, this deal will be the first of its kind in the EU.
- The deal also comes a week after the European Commission agreed to support a proposal to suspend a 2007 visa agreement with Russia on travel visas, making the process longer and more expensive for Russian citizens.
- EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said last week that the influx of Russian tourists into the EU since mid-July, when Russia lifted COVID-19 border restrictions, "has become a security risk," Bloomberg reported.
State of play: Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs announced the three nations had an agreement in principle to "significantly limit (with some exceptions) border crossings for citizens of the Russian Federation who have EU Schengen visas."
- The agreement, which will apply to Russians crossing from both Russia and Belarus, is expected to go into effect in the next 10 days, Rinkēvičs said, per Politico.
- Exceptions will be made for diplomats and truck drivers, or for family and humanitarian reasons, Reuters reported.
What they're saying: "In the last couple of weeks and months, the border crossing by Russian citizens holding Schengen visas have dramatically increased," Rinkēvičs said at a press conference Wednesday, per Reuters.
- "This is becoming a public security issue, this is also an issue of a moral and political nature," he added.
The big picture: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials have urged Western nations more than once to ban all Russian travelers.
- EU members have been split over the proposal, with Germany and France firmly opposed.
- Finland, which has cut down on the issuing of new tourist visas to Russians, said Wednesday that it won't make a formal decision to ban all Russians until a decision is made on the EU level, per Politico.
- Roughly one million Russians have entered the EU since the start of Russia's war in Ukraine, and about two-thirds of those have entered through Estonia or Finland, Bloomberg reported, citing data from the EU's border agency Frontex.
Flashback: In May, Lithuania became the first country in the world to designate Russia as a sponsor and executor of terrorism.