UK could ‘toughen up’ visa conditions for Russians

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LONDON — Britain’s Defense Secretary Ben Wallace has suggested the U.K. may tighten visa conditions for Russians, but expressed doubts about a total ban on all Russian tourists.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today program Wednesday, Wallace said he thought the U.K. “can toughen up the conditions” of its visa system, but added: “I am not sure whether an outright ban is the right way.”

Baltic countries are currently pushing for a full EU-wide ban on Russian tourists, which EU foreign ministers are set to discuss in Prague next week. The proposal has met with resistance in Germany, Greece and Cyprus among other member countries. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other senior officials in Kyiv have demanded a total block on Russian travelers.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell poured cold water on the proposal this week, saying the EU would “have to be more selective.”

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Wallace is the first U.K. minister to openly discuss whether London could modify its own visa rules in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“That’s a matter for the home secretary to look at,” he added. “But I don’t like — and I’m sure none of your listeners like — watching oligarchs’ wives or indeed Russian senior officials’ wives enjoying themselves in Greece or the south of France, or on superyachts around the world, while their army is committing war crimes in Ukraine. I think that is very wrong.”

Wallace denied “any wavering” in Western support for Ukraine, but admitted “there’s always a few disagreements about the level of sanctions.”

Speaking on Sky News, Wallace’s deputy James Heappey also rejected any suggestion that spiraling energy prices might force the U.K. to rethink its position.

“I can understand why lots of people … worrying about the cost of living will be agreeing … that arguably the most straightforward solution for the cost-of-living crisis is that we reestablish relations with Russia, and everything goes back to the way that it was in the European energy market,” Heappey said. “Every single thing I have seen in the last six months tells me that that would be catastrophic for security in the Euro-Atlantic.”

Camille Gijs contributed reporting.