1st Feb 2023

Legal doubt over Baltic ban on Russian tourists

  • Kaunas - details of the ban still to be worked out, Lithuanian diplomat said (Photo: Konrad Krajewski)
Listen to article

Baltic states are to ban all Russian tourists in some 10 days' time, but Nordic countries are not joining the move amid uncertainty over its legality.

Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania announced the ban at a meeting of Baltic and Nordic foreign ministers in Kaunas, Lithuania, on Wednesday (7 August).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

It means they would not just stop issuing new Russian tourist visas, but also refuse to honour Russian visas granted by other members of the so-called Schengen travel zone, which covers 22 out of the 27 EU countries, as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland.

"It means Russians will not be able to cross the border," Latvian foreign minister Edgars Rinkevičius said, citing moral, political, and security reasons to curb Russian holiday-making in the EU amid the Ukraine war.

Estonian foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu spoke of stopping "an invasion of Russian people" into Estonia, referring to a recent spike in visitors.

The tourist-ban move was "fully in line with comprehensive European regulations", he claimed, while inviting other EU countries to join it.

Lithuanian foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said other EU capitals had nodded approval to the Baltic plan when it was floated at informal talks in Prague last week.

He said it would enter into force from 15 or 16 September.

The Baltic trio said they'd go ahead on the basis of national security measures and would exempt several categories of Russians, such as humanitarian workers, dissidents, lorry drivers, relatives, diplomats, and asylum seekers.

The details still remained to be worked out, a Lithuanian diplomat told this website.

But Finland, which has the longest Russian border of any EU state, opted to wait until the EU Commission had issued legal advice before going further.

Finland had already slashed the number of new tourist visas it was giving to Russians by 90 percent so that there were no more left for September, its foreign minister Pekka Haavisto noted in Kaunas.

But it was unsure how to treat Russians entering on visas issued by other Schengen countries who were using Helsinki airport to transit to Italy or Spain, for instance.

"We've done what we understand is possible in the Schengen context," he said.

"We're waiting for European Commission guidance on how to handle all of Schengen," Haavisto added. "Can you actually cancel the Schengen principles? This is still unclear. We have this legal problem," he said.

Denmark, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden also held back despite echoing the Baltics' views.

Danish foreign minister Jeppe Kofod said Copenhagen had put Russia in the same category as Eritrea, Somalia, and Syria in terms of how hard it was for Russians to now get Danish entry permits.

It was a "provocation" to see Russian tourists having fun on European beaches and in shops and cafes while Russian soldiers bombed Ukrainian cities, killed civilians, and committed "war crimes", he added.

But Denmark would not be going beyond the current EU-level Russian visa sanctions either, he indicated.

EU foreign ministers in Prague last week agreed to freeze a 2007 visa-facilitation agreement, meaning the costs of Russian tourist visas would soon go up from €35 to €80 and fewer of them would be issued across the bloc.

They stopped short of a full ban after France, Germany, and Hungary objected due to fears it might isolate ordinary Russians.

Poland, another EU state with a Russian border, had called for stricter measures in Prague.

Warsaw declined to react to the Baltic initiative on Wednesday, but a Polish diplomat said it had a near blanket ban on new Polish visas for Russians anyway.

Poland was letting in dissidents and independent journalists on a case-by-case basis, as well as honouring other Schengen states' visas.

But it was not issuing new entry permits for study, sports, family visits, work, or tourism.

The EU Commission could not immediately reply when asked by EUobserver if the Baltic measures were in conformity with their Schengen obligations.

Russia blames Western sanctions for EU gas supply problems

Moscow said Western sanctions are causing the problems preventing the restoration of gas flows via the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline, as energy prices soared in response to Russia's decision to keep the pipeline closed, following an apparent oil leak.

Finnish border guards will allow fleeing Russians to enter

Finland says there has not yet been a dramatic increase in Russian nationals trying to enter Finland from Russia, noting just over 4,800 Russian nationals crossed the land border on the day of Vladimir Putin's announcement of the draft.


Europe is giving more aid to Ukraine than you think

'Europeans need to pull their weight in Ukraine. They should pony up more funds.' Such has been the chorus since the start of the war. The problem is the argument isn't borne out by the facts, at least not anymore.


Democracy — is it in crisis or renaissance?

Countries that were once democratising are now moving in the other direction — think of Turkey, Myanmar, Hungary or Tunisia. On the other hand, in autocracies mass mobilisation rarely succeeds in changing political institutions. Think of Belarus, Iran or Algeria.

Latest News

  1. EU green industry plan could spark 'dangerous subsidy race'
  2. Wolves should be defended, EU ministers urge
  3. EU Commission wants drones for Bulgaria on Turkey border
  4. MEPs rally ahead of vote for gig-economy workers' rights
  5. Europe is giving more aid to Ukraine than you think
  6. Hungary blames conspiracy for EU corruption rating
  7. Democracy — is it in crisis or renaissance?
  8. EU lobby register still riddled with errors

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Party of the European LeftJOB ALERT - Seeking a Communications Manager (FT) for our Brussels office!
  2. European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual & Reproductive Rights (EPF)Launch of the EPF Contraception Policy Atlas Europe 2023. 8th February. Register now.
  3. Europan Patent OfficeHydrogen patents for a clean energy future: A global trend analysis of innovation along hydrogen value chains
  4. Forum EuropeConnecting the World from the Skies calls for global cooperation in NTN rollout
  5. EFBWWCouncil issues disappointing position ignoring the threats posed by asbestos
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersLarge Nordic youth delegation at COP15 biodiversity summit in Montreal

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  3. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  4. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  5. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos
  6. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us