Tuesday

7th Feb 2023

EU hawks unlikely to give up on Russia-tourist ban

  • Previous EU sanctions on Russian aviation have already made it harder for Russians to travel (Photo: Khairil Zhafri)
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Many Russian tourists are likely to pay €80 instead of €35 for EU visas in future, as the bloc's hawks and doves debate how far to go with travel sanctions.

Russians would also face more visa-application bureaucracy and be less likely to get multi-entry EU permits under the new measures, which involve freezing a bilateral visa-facilitation pact from 2007.

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The sanctions are to be discussed by EU foreign ministers in Prague on Tuesday (30 August) and Wednesday, after six months of brutal Russian warfare against Ukraine.

"There's not a lot of opposition and I expect it [getting the sanctions approved] will be fine," one EU diplomat told EUobserver on Monday.

The informal Prague talks will not issue a detailed decision with a timeframe, but will "give a political green light for [technical] work to begin", a second EU diplomat said.

The Prague visa deal, first reported by the Financial Times, represents a compromise between EU hawks, who want a total ban on Russian tourists to make the war unpopular, and EU doves, who fear isolating Russian society.

The Baltic States, the Czech republic, Finland, and Poland have pushed for a full ban, with the Czechs, Estonians, and Finns already pressing ahead with unilateral restrictions on Russian tourists without waiting for an EU decision.

France and Germany, as well as the EU foreign service, have voiced fears about cutting off Russian dissidents and civil society.

"That's what they say publicly, but in reality it shows that Paris and Berlin still don't believe in a scenario in which Russia loses on the battlefield and there is internal instability inside Russia," an EU source said.

And any initial compromise in Prague is likely to be followed by further haggling between the two camps, diplomats predicted.

"There are plenty of ideas floating around," an EU diplomat said.

"It may be that only certain categories of Russians will be covered [by the new costs and administrative burden] in the end," he said. "Or, that in future there could be a limited number of Russian tourist visas issued by the EU each year," he added.

Another EU source said there was pressure to exclude young Russian people from any visa restrictions: "There's some kind of obsession in EU decision-making circles about Russian youth — under 25s."

"But most Russian soldiers murdering and raping people in Ukraine are under 25," the source said. "We have to get rid of this idea that this is just 'Putin's war', not a wider Russian war," he added, referring to Russian president Vladimir Putin.

"I expect that separate talks on a full ban on Russian tourists will only kick off on the back of Wednesday's decision," an EU diplomat said.

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