The leaders of Estonia and Finland want fellow European countries to stop issuing tourist visas to Russian citizens, saying they should not be able to take vacations in Europe while the government of Russia carries out a war in Ukraine.
Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas wrote Tuesday on Twitter that “visiting Europe is a privilege, not a human right” and that it is “time to end tourism from Russia now.”
A day earlier, her counterpart in Finland, Sanna Marin, told Finnish broadcaster YLE that “it is not right that while Russia is waging an aggressive, brutal war of aggression in Europe, Russians can live a normal life, travel in Europe, be tourists.”
Estonia and Finland both border Russia and are members of the European Union, which banned air travel from Russia after it invaded Ukraine. But Russians can still travel by land to both countries and apparently are then taking flights to other European destinations.
YLE reported last week that Russian companies have started offering car trips from St. Petersburg to the airports of Helsinki and Lappeenranta in Finland, which have direct connections to several places in Europe. Russia’s second-largest city is about 300 kilometers (186 miles) from the Finnish capital.
Visas issued by Finland are valid across most of Europe’s travel zone, known as the “Schengen area” which is made up of 26 countries: 22 EU nations plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Normally, people and goods move freely between these countries without border checks.
Some EU countries no longer issue visas to Russians, including Latvia, which made that move this month because of the war.
The issue of visas for Russians will be discussed at an informal meeting of EU foreign ministers on Aug. 31, YLE said.
“I would believe that in future European Council meetings, this issue will come up even more strongly. My personal position is that tourism should be restricted,” Marin told the Finnish broadcaster.
During the coronavirus pandemic, Helsinki and Moscow temporarily shut down the border, putting an abrupt stop to visits to Finland by nearly 2 million Russian tourists who gave a boost to the local economy each year.
Finland shares a 1,340-kilometer (832-mile) land border with Russia, complete with several crossing points in what is one of the European Union’s longest external borders.