Finland intends to limit visas for Russian tourists

Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland Pekka Haavisto told Euronews that the government has approved plans to limit the number of visas issued to Russians.

The Finnish government has come under increased public and political pressure over the past ten days to close an alleged sanctions loophole that allows tens of thousands of Russians to travel to the EU by car or bus through Finnish border crossings – even though sanctions prevent Russians from flying or taking trains to European countries. Union.

Haavisto says ministers on Thursday gave the green light to a scheme that would limit the number of appointments available to Russians at Finnish diplomatic missions in Russia, ultimately leading to a reduction in the number of visas issued.

This is a short-term bureaucratic solution to a problem Finns hope the EU will solve for them soon. next meeting of foreign ministers in the Czech Republic at the end of August.

“Of course, we are not the only country that has problems with this issue,” Haavisto said.

“And if we reduce the number of Schengen visas we issue, we should have a more coordinated EU approach,” he added.

Finns have 12 different categories of visas they can issue, including those for students, workers, family members and tourists, and Haavisto said the easiest and legal way to reduce the number of tourist visas is to “prioritize times for other types of visas.” visas. visas and give a little less tourist visas.”

Wave of support to stop Russian tourists violating sanctions

On a lower level, Finns have been showing their disgust at the influx of Russian tourists crossing the border since mid-July, when Moscow lifted the last remaining COVID-related border restrictions.

Political youth group paid for huge billboard next to the border crossing with Russia, which says: “While you are on vacation, Ukrainians have nowhere to return”; while the southeastern city of Lappeenranta, where most Russian day travelers stop for shopping, sing the anthem of Ukraine every day in August and raise Ukrainian flags at the port of entry to Finland and in shopping malls.

Finnish retailers have been reminded not to sell any luxury goods to Russian tourists, which would be a violation of sanctions; as well as Finnish customs confiscated some luxury items and “goods that could contribute to Russia’s industrial and military potential, such as aids used in navigation” in a series of heightened checks and searches of Russian tourists crossing the border.

Meanwhile civil initiative a call to ban new visas for Russians and abolish existing visas has garnered more than 7,000 signatures since its launch in late July. The petition must collect 50,000 signatures within six months to be considered by parliamentary committees.

“It’s important to remember that the biggest countries issuing Schengen visas to Russians are Greece, Italy and Spain,” Foreign Minister Haavisto, a Green Party veteran, told Euronews in a telephone interview from Helsinki.

“And when there are visas issued by these countries, we cannot stop people at our borders, because the Schengen guarantees non-discrimination based on nationality,” he said.

Finns also want to be very careful not to stop people crossing the border for family reunification reasons – a large chunk of eastern Russia was part of Finland until it was handed over to the Russians as reparations after World War II, and there are deep and enduring cross-border family ties.

it’s the same approximately 84,000 native Russian speakers who live in Finland, many of whom have Finnish partners and extended families. Haavisto says that 30% of people crossing the border into Russia are actually Finns.

“It is important for us that we have a peaceful border, and people who have to cross it can cross it. But we do not want to become a gateway to Helsinki Airport, which the Russians are starting to use as a transit point,” he said. euronews.

“This requires not only a Finnish solution, but also a broader Schengen solution.”