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Finland and Estonia leaders call for Russian visa ban amid Ukraine row

By JULIAN SHEA in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2022-08-12 09:09

The leaders of Finland and Estonia have called on European Union countries to stop issuing tourist visas to Russian citizens while the conflict in Ukraine persists.

Currently, EU airspace is closed to Russian planes, but Russia shares land borders with both countries and its second-largest city, St Petersburg, is just 300 kilometers from the Finnish capital Helsinki, so Russians can travel there and then on to other European cities.

Visas issued by Finland are valid across most of Europe's Schengen zone travel area, which comprises 22 EU member states plus Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein, allowing free movement of goods and people without border checks.

Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin told state broadcaster YLE that while the conflict continues, Russians should not be allowed to "live a normal life".

Her Estonian counterpart Kaja Kallas supported that stance with a tweet saying "visiting Europe is a privilege, not a human right".

Currently, there is still a short-stay visa agreement in place between the EU and Russia, which has been partly suspended but not abandoned altogether.

In a Washington Post interview earlier this week, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on EU countries to deny all Russian tourist access, saying they should be made to "live in their own world until they change their philosophy".

Like Estonia, Latvia borders Russia and was previously part of the Soviet Union. It has already banned almost all visas for Russians, but Marin said the Finnish cabinet was discussing whether it could act independently, and thought that an EU-wide policy would be more effective.

"Is Finnish legislation up-to-date enough that we could introduce our own national sanctions in such a very exceptional situation? But I would personally like to see European solutions to this question as well," she 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."

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded to the suggestions by saying: "I think that over time, common sense will somehow manifest itself, and those who made such statements will come to their senses.

"The irrationality of such reasoning goes beyond all limits and can only provoke a negative reaction…any attempt to isolate the Russians or Russia has no chance of succeeding," he added.

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