Estonia stops issuing visas to Russian tourists

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The Estonian government on Thursday announced that it will ban Russians with Estonian-issued Schengen visas from entering the country.

“We see that the number of Russian citizens passing through Estonia or coming to Estonia from Russia has increased massively,” Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu told a press conference, standing in for Prime Minister Kaja Kallas who is currently isolating after she tested positive for coronavirus.

“The possibility for Russian citizens to visit Estonia en masse or through Estonia to Europe is not in line with the purpose of the sanctions we have imposed,” he added.

The rule will apply as of August 18, but excludes Russian citizens with visas issued by other EU countries. It also excludes Russian citizens who have a long-term residence in Estonia, Russian diplomats and their family, workers transporting goods and passengers, people visiting close relatives, citizens granted with freedom of movement under EU law, and people traveling for humanitarian reasons.

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While Estonia is the first country to introduce such a restriction, Finland and Latvia have also been pushing for all EU countries to impose a full ban on Russian travelers, echoing calls from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said Monday she expected the issue to be discussed at upcoming EU leaders’ summits.

Estonia “has decided to no longer accept people from Russia, who are #Schengen visa holders that has been granted by [Estonia], to enter the country. I call on other governments to follow such steps,” Reinsalu tweeted.

While countries neighboring Russia want to bring up the issue at the EU level, the Commission said current visa sanctions targeted Russian oligarchs and people close to the Kremlin, not citizens.

Commission spokesperson Anitta Hipper told reporters at a midday briefing Thursday that EU countries have to ensure that certain categories of people always get issued visas, such as “humanitarian aid, family members, journalists or dissidents.” Hipper added that discussions were taking place at EU level with member countries to “ensure coordinated action.”

Luanna Muniz contributed reporting.