29th Mar 2023

Paris and Berlin pledge Russia sanctions, but not visa ban

  • Franco-German paper circulated during talks in Prague under Czech EU presidency (Photo:
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France and Germany have promised further economic sanctions on Russia in future, while urging more hawkish EU member states to drop calls for a ban on Russian tourists.

"Equally important is that we sustain and broaden our sanctions against the Russian political, military, and economic elites," Paris and Berlin said in an informal paper sent to member states during talks in Prague on Tuesday (30 August) and Wednesday.

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"We will also continue to strategically target the Russian economy with further economic and financial sanctions in order to debase the regime's financial capacity to wage war," they said.

They specifically promised "additional sanctions for those involved in the annexations" by Russia of chunks of captured Ukrainian territory.

And they hinted at more Western expulsions of Russian spies from Europe.

"We should aim at containing Russian malign influence in Europe and beyond, including by disrupting Russian intelligence networks and criminal operations in our countries," the Franco-German paper said.

"A return to 'business as usual' with Russia is impossible unless Moscow fundamentally changes course," it said.

The promises come after seven previous rounds of EU sanctions, but also amid a heated debate on whether to ban Russian tourists coming to the EU to try to make the war unpopular.

EU foreign ministers are narrowing in on a deal in Prague to raise the price of Russian tourist visas to €80 instead of €35, by suspending a 15-year old visa pact.

The Baltic states, the Czech Republic, Finland, and Poland had been calling for a full Russian tourist ban.

They were joined by the Dutch on Tuesday, who had been sitting on the fence, but whose foreign minister Wopke Hoekstra told Dutch broadcaster RTL: "We would like to make a difference between the Russian state and its citizens. But at the same time, we see that by far the most people that come here are rich Russians who often have ties to the regime".

But one diplomat from the hawkish camp admitted that "it won't be possible" to agree an EU-level visa blockade, given the strength of French and German opposition.

And even as the Franco-German paper dangled loose talk of future Russia sanctions, it also took a firm line on the current visa debate.

'Hearts and minds'

"We need to strategically fight for the 'hearts and minds' of the Russian population — at least the segments not yet completely estranged from 'the West'," it said.

"We should not underestimate the transformative power of experiencing life in democratic systems at first-hand, especially for future generations. Our visa policies should reflect that," it added.

A blanket visa ban could "trigger unintended rallying-around the flag effects," it also said.

The strategy paper spoke of a grand ideological battle between "liberal democratic values" and Russia's "expansionist, imperialistic ideology of 'Russkiy mir' [Russian world]".

It also proposed novel EU ways to combat Russian propaganda, such as "providing Russian language content for Russian-speaking minorities abroad or by funding media literacy courses in Russian that could be disseminated by video bloggers on YouTube, Facebook, TikTok, Telegram channels and Vkontakte". 

For his part, one Russian dissident living in London — Vladimir Ashurkov, an associate of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny — agreed with the softer approach.

"A visa ban would alienate potential allies in Russia and push people on the edge closer to [Russian president] Vladimir Putin," he told EUobserver.

"At the same time, any punishment value for the Russian regime and those who support the war is illusory," he added.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also said "individual European capitals are demonstrating an absolute lack of reason" by proposing the tourist ban.

But if Paris and Berlin get their way, there risks remaining a toxic aftertaste in EU circles.

"Germany convinced the world that good Germans suffered during WWII. Now they are defending the same thesis with regard to Russians despite any evidence to the contrary," one EU source said.

"But why the fuck should all of Europe and the West suffer because of Germany's psychosis?," he said.

EU training mission

Meanwhile, European defence ministers also meeting in Prague on Tuesday agreed to start preparations for an EU military-training mission for Ukrainian soldiers in a few months' time.

The EU foreign affairs chief, Josep Borrell, raised the alarm on Russia's destabilising activities in Bosnia and on Russian mercenaries' "plunder" of natural resources in Mali and the Central African Republic, highlighting the wider frontline in the geopolitical clash with Russia.

But he said the first ship of Ukrainian grain reached Djibouti on Tuesday under a Turkey-brokered deal to help prevent people starving in Africa due to Russia's invasion.

"It's a lovely day here in Prague today, but unfortunately we still have a very serious war in the middle of Europe and it looks like will take a long time until it's over," Swedish defence minister Peter Hultqvist said.


Give Russians more visas — not fewer

It would be unwise to stop letting Russians in. Europe's aim is to stop the war in Ukraine and for Russia to withdraw completely from Ukraine. And that can only happen if Russian citizens start resisting the war.

Finland restricts Russian tourist visas

Russian citizens were circumventing the European airspace ban by driving to Helsinki airport, which was being used as a hub to fly to other tourist destinations. Finland is now restricting those border crossings.

Germany rejects visa ban for Russian tourists

German chancellor Olaf Scholz said a total ban on tourist visas will not be supported by Berlin — adding that many refugees do not agree with the Russian regime.


Stop the visas — EU is not a Russia holiday destination

So-called Russian tourists should not be able to travel to the EU and Schengen countries. Tourist visas already issued should be suspended — and stop issuing new ones, says Urmas Paet, vice-chair of the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee.


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