‘Visiting Europe is a privilege, not a human right,’ Estonian PM says
Russian citizens should not be allowed to enjoy holidays in the bloc while the Kremlin continues to wage war on Ukraine, they argued.
Although the EU has banned Russian planes from entering its airspace, its citizens can still travel across their country’s land borders with Finland, Estonia and Latvia to catch onward flights to other European destinations.
Russian travel firms are now offering car services from St Petersburg to Finland’s Helsinki and Lappeenranta airports to facilitate such journeys, according to the Finnish broadcaster YLE.
Finnish prime minister Sanna Marin told the channel on Monday that “it is not right that while Russia is waging an aggressive, brutal war of aggression in Europe, Russians can live a normal life, travel in Europe, be tourists”.
Ms Sarin said she expects the issue to be raised “more strongly” at future European Council meetings. “My personal position is that tourism should be restricted,” she added.
On Tuesday, Estonia also backed this position, with prime minister Kaja Kallas saying it was “time to end tourism from Russia now”.
“Visiting Europe is a privilege, not a human right,” she said in a tweet.
Ms Kallas added that Finland, Estonia and Latvia were carrying the burden of Europe’s current policy, as Russians use their borders as the “sole access points” into the EU. Foreign tourists can also travel from these countries to Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, as these non-EU countries are members of the Schengen Area.
The Estonian and Finnish prime ministers’ comments followed their Ukrainian counterpart’s request for Russian tourism to be banned so as to deter Moscow’s aggression.
In an interview published by the Washington Post on Monday, Mr Zelensky called on the West to shut its borders, saying that such action would constitute the “most important” of all sanctions. He also expressed his wish for other countries to introduce a full Russian energy embargo.
Referring to a potential travel ban, he added that Russians should “live in their own world until they change their philosophy”.
Mr Zelensky had little truck with the argument that the move would unfairly affect Russians who oppose Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Ukrainian president said this did not matter, arguing that all Russians can be held accountable for the war. “The population picked this government and they’re not fighting it, not arguing with it, not shouting at it,” he said.
The presence of more Putin opponents in Russia could also serve to “influence” the Kremlin, he said.
Thousands of Russians were arrested earlier in the conflict for protesting against their president’s actions. Under a new law, they can face up to 15 years in prison for challenging the Kremlin’s narrative about its “special military operation” in Ukraine.