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Will European border guards actually force Russian citizens to undress? — RT World News

Russian tourists are brave: they travel to more extreme countries, but walking around naked in Western Europe might be a bridge too far.

By Ivan Timofeyevprogram director of the Valdai Club and general director of the Russian International Affairs Council

In Russia, the news of the European Commission’s clarifications on the importation of sanctioned goods by our citizens caused a sensation.

It now appears that a fictitious Russian entering an EU country stands to lose much more than their car. They may also have confiscated their cell phones, cameras, toilet paper, precious metal products, cigarettes, cosmetics, soap, suitcases and bags. And, where applicable, women’s clothing and other items.

In other words, customs officials have the power to literally rob Russians crossing the border. So far this has not happened. But this cannot be ruled out.

As part of its policy of sanctions against Moscow over the conflict in Ukraine, Brussels has banned the import of a wide range of Russian products. These include a number of items intended for personal use. In July 2023, the first signs suggest that these objects could be confiscated by customs. At the time, it was Russian cars that were stopped by German officers. The European Commission (EC) subsequently clarified the EU’s approach to the enforcement of German laws: the importation of sanctioned goods is prohibited, even if they are intended for personal use.

If this interpretation is applied literally, the objectives could become absurd.

EU policy towards Russia encompasses a wide range of embargoes. These include blocking financial sanctions, sectoral restrictions, transport and visa bans, export controls on a wide range of products and banning the import of a number of goods in coming from the country.

The other latest measure aims to deprive Moscow of revenues from the sale of these products on the markets of EU member states. Brussels has banned the import of a number of strategic raw materials from Russia – oil, petroleum products, coal, ferrous metallurgical products, gold, etc.

A number of others have also been banned. This provision is set out in Article 3i of EU Council Regulation No 833/2014. The direct or indirect import of these goods from Russia into the EU, as well as the provision of related intermediary and financial services, is prohibited. Annex XXI contains the list of designations. It is very diverse: it includes caviar, cement, chemicals, fertilizers, soap, rubber, paper, pumps, refrigerators, bearings, motors, telephones, cars, cameras and many others. Of course, shipments of these goods have no chance of passing customs.

But what happens if a Russian citizen imports a certain item for personal use? The most obvious example is entering the EU with a private car. At the beginning of July this year, German customs clarified that entry into Germany with a private vehicle was considered grounds for seizure. In fact, German customs have assumed that Article 3i of Regulation 833/2014 does not provide an exemption for goods intended for personal use. It contains paragraph 3a, which allows the importation of goods intended for such use by EU citizens and their family members.

However, this does not apply to Russian citizens. A few weeks later, the German prosecutor closed the investigation. Thus, the affected Audi Q3 was returned to the Russian Ivan Koval. In other words, compliance with EU rules by German customs was compensated by the common sense of the prosecution.

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So, after a few months, the EC confirmed the German customs measure. A clarification was issued on September 8. It states that the Article 3i standard makes no distinction between cars for sale and cars for personal use. In other words, customs authorities of EU countries can now use the German precedent and, based on the Commission’s clarifications, seize cars registered in Russia. The clarification tangentially affects other goods in Annex XXI of Regulation 833/2014. As mentioned earlier, in theory this means that customs officers have the power to literally strip Russians naked.

Several practical considerations are important. First, the sanctions regime potentially places any Russian citizen crossing the EU border in a vulnerable position. Of course, the application of European law varies from country to country. In some states, customs can be overzealous, as was the case in Germany in July. In others, not so much – often to the point of absurdity.

However, a theoretical Russian can hardly know in advance exactly how the stars will align. Again, in theory, Russian citizens can try to challenge the customs decision in court. But not everyone will be able to embark on such a long process, with lawyer fees and wasted time. And it is far from certain that a court will agree with them.

Russian tourists are brave: they go to more extreme countries, where confiscating toilet paper or a camera can seem trivial.

But if this practice becomes widespread, it will be another nail in the coffin of people-to-people relations between Russia and the EU. Previous problems included stricter visa regimes, bans on financial deposits above a certain amount, and the arbitrary freezing of Russian accounts by EU banks simply because of their nationality – just in case.

The passage of time and the practical implementation of the rules will reveal the limits of escalating absurdity.

This article was originally published by Valdai Discussion Club, translated and edited by RT Team


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