Ukraine wants EU to ban Russian tourists: NPR


European Union countries along the Russian border want the rest of the bloc to join them in restricting or even banning tourist travel by Russians.



LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Ukraine is asking the European Union to stop allowing Russian citizens to travel there as tourists. As Teri Schultz reports, European governments on the border with Russia are on board and asking the rest of the EU to join the effort.

TERI SCHULTZ, BYLINE: Why should Russian citizens enjoy leisure trips to Europe when millions of Ukrainians have had to flee for their lives under attack from Moscow? Some European Union leaders say they shouldn’t.

GABRIELUS LANDSBERGIS: If we found a solution, indeed, Russian tourism in Europe would be stopped.

SCHULTZ: Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielus Landsbergis wants EU governments to stop issuing visas to Russians other than for humanitarian reasons, as his country has done since the Russian invasion. The other countries sharing a border with Russia or Belarus have already decided to restrict or prohibit the issuance of new visas to Russians. Landsbergis says an EU-wide agreement to do so, coupled with tougher checks at entry points, would not only punish Russia, but protect Europe from some of those he calls so-called Russian tourists.

LANDSBERGIS: They come with a Schengen visa. And they go to, you know, protests and shout all kinds of things in support of the Putin regime, the war in Ukraine and things like that. So these kinds of questions could be asked at the border. That’s what we’re looking at. And that’s – again, that’s what we’re going to propose for debate on Tuesday. For example, can we ask at the border, what is your purpose? What is your position on the war, you know? Who owns Crimea, you know, at least?

SCHULTZ: But to prevent people from going to the EU, you need the cooperation of all the other member countries. Indeed, a visa issued by a government allows travel to most of the bloc. Since most flights from Russia are now canceled due to sanctions, the majority of visa holders must enter overland via these border countries, such as Lithuania. The call for repression has its detractors. Several governments, including Germany, say they are opposed, as does EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.

JOSEP BORRELL: (through interpreter) Are we going to close the door on those Russians who don’t want war and don’t want to live under Putin? It’s not a good idea.

SCHULTZ: Finland has said it will reduce the number of visas issued to Russians by 90% starting this week. Antero Holmila is a history teacher in Finland. He says preventing travel to Russia could be counterproductive due to the Russian government’s blocking of Western information. Holmila has a suggestion.

ANTERO HOLMILA: When they come into Finland, you know, rather than seeing the luxury goods ads or whatever, they see the scenery in Ukraine. And, you know, it doesn’t have to be someone saying or trying to indoctrinate them that way, but rather that they see – instead of luxuries, they see devastation. I mean, at least it would already push people to confront an alternate and probably very unpleasant reality for them.

SCHULTZ: But Oksana Bulda, a volunteer with the NGO Promote Ukraine in Brussels, hopes the EU will block Russian tourists.

OKSANA BULDA: The level of impact of the sanctions that have been introduced recently is not sufficient. And this does not directly affect ordinary Russians. This is why the level of support for the war in Russia is so high at 77%. And taking away their right to travel to Europe is something that Europe could use not only to protect itself, but to directly affect every Russian.

SCHULTZ: It doesn’t seem to be on the cards yet, though. For now, it looks like the most likely compromise will be to suspend a deal that made it easier for Russians to get visas. It may slow them down, but it won’t stop them.

For NPR News, I’m Teri Schultz in Brussels.

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