COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Four European countries that border Russia will take regional steps this month to limit people from Russia from entering Europe’s visa-free zone by land because they “are increasingly concerned about the substantial and growing influx of Russian citizens.”
“We believe that this is becoming a serious threat to our public security and to the overall shared Schengen area,” Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said Thursday. “There are people coming with the aim of undermining the security of our countries.”
Poland and the three Baltic countries — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — have agreed on a common regional approach with the “political will and firm intention to introduce national temporary measures for Russian citizens holding EU visas.”
Such measures should take effect in each of the four countries by Sept. 19.
“We emphasize that this is not an outright entry ban and commonly agreed legitimate exceptions will remain,” Kallas said, adding exceptions include dissidents, humanitarian cases, family members and holders of residence permits, among others.
“Travel to the European Union is a privilege, not a human right,” Kallas said, adding it was “unacceptable that citizens of the aggressor state are able to freely travel in the EU, whilst at the same time people in Ukraine are being tortured and murdered.”
In Poland, one of the staunchest supporters of Ukraine in its fight against Russia’s invasion, the government said the goal was to “prevent direct threats to the public order and security.”
Kallas added that most visas issued to Russians were given before Russia invaded Ukraine in February.
Estonia and Latvia border the Russian mainland, while Lithuania and Poland share borders with Russia’s exclave of Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea.
At a European Union summit last month, the bloc’s 27 members were divided over whether to slap a broad visa ban on Russian citizens, torn between a desire to ramp up pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin and concerns about punishing ordinary Russians who may not even support his war on Ukraine.
The EU already tightened visa restrictions on Russian officials and businesspeople in May, but Poland and the Baltic countries have called for a broader ban on tourists. Germany and France are leading a push to tighten visa restrictions on Russians rather than impose an outright ban.
“What we have seen in the last couple of weeks and months is that number of border crossings by Russian citizens holding Schengen visas has dramatically increased,” said Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics during a news conference after a meeting of Nordic and Baltic foreign ministers in Lithuania on Wednesday. “This is becoming also a public security issue. This is … an issue of a moral and political nature.”
The EU already has banned air travel from Russia after it invaded Ukraine. But Russians can still travel by land to Estonia and apparently are then taking flights to other European destinations.
The four countries are EU members and part of Europe’s travel zone — known as the “Schengen area” — where people and goods move freely between these countries without border checks.
Follow all AP stories on developments related to the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine.
____ Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland and Jari Tanner in Helsinki contributed to this report.