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Friday, September 22, 2023

EU hardens visa regime for Russians


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Brussels: European Union foreign ministers have agreed to suspend a visa agreement with Moscow, making it harder for Russian citizens to obtain entry to the bloc.

The five EU countries bordering Russia — Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland — said in a joint statement that they could introduce temporary bans or restrictions “in order to address imminent public security issues”, the BBC reported.

Ukraine and some member states had called for a blanket ban, but others like France and Germany were opposed. Several eastern EU countries which border Russia are expected to impose further restrictions.

More than a million Russian citizens have travelled to the EU since the invasion of Ukraine in February.

France and Germany warned in a joint statement that “far-reaching restrictions” could feed Russia’s narrative as a victim and estrange future generations of Russians, the BBC report added.

While Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba criticised the decision as a “half-measure”, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Glushko said the EU was “shooting itself in the foot” and the move would not go unanswered.

“With regard to Russia [this] is exactly what led to the large-scale invasion of February 24th,” Kuleba said.

The BBC quoted EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell as saying that substantial increase in border crossings from Russia made it necessary to suspend the agreement. “This has become a security risk for these neighbouring states,” he said. “In addition to that, we have seen many Russians travelling for leisure and shopping as if no war was raging in Ukraine.”

However, he warned against cutting off people who are against the war or “civil society” in Russia. Borrell said countries on Russia’s borders were still free to restrict access to Russian citizens, even those with visas.

The measure, which makes it lengthier and more expensive for Russians to get a visa, is being seen as a compromise, with member states unable to agree on banning Russians altogether.

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky said the European Commission would look at ways to go further, adding that some 12 million visas had been issued to Russians – the equivalent of about 8 per cent of the population.

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