Russian citizens with tourist visa can only dream of the Baltic border

Margus Paaliste
, ajakirjanik
Urmas Reinsalu.
Urmas Reinsalu. Photo: Leedu välisministeerium
  • Every country’s government will make the final decision.
  • States have complete autonomy in deciding who to allow enter its territory.
  • Decisions of the Baltic states will influence the pressure at the Finnish border.

The foreign ministers of the Baltic states reached an agreement in Kaunas on Wednesday that from the end of September at the latest, citizens of the Russian Federation with a Schengen visa will not be allowed to enter the Baltic states.

Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) assured Postimees that he had reached a common understanding with his colleagues, which will now be presented to national governments.

"We wish that our governments would, as soon as possible, make decisions within their competence and according to their laws, stop the possibility for citizens of the Russian Federation to enter the country if they come with the so-called tourist visa,” Reinsalu explained.

But when would the Baltic states be closed for the Russian tourists?

"There will be a certain transitional period, about a week, so that it would be possible to adapt to the new rule. Our goal would be to enforce the visa ban in the second half of September; the specific dates depend on the governments' decisions," Reinsalu stated.

It has previously been pointed out that possible exemptions from the visa ban would concern truck drivers, diplomats, border crossers traveling for family or humanitarian reasons. Reinsalu did not confirm the specific list.

“Largely if would be the same catalog of exceptions as the principle of issuing visas, which has been in force since the spring. Now a similar exception will apply to whomever we allow into the country,” Reinsalu explained.

According to the minister, it is important that this is not an official agreement between the Baltic states, but similar decisions made in cooperation between the states. “As for the legal procedure, it will take place on the basis of the current law. Of course, the government makes these decisions in full accordance with the rules of the European Union,” Reinsalu said.

The minister would not worry about possible legal claims that Russian citizens turned back at the border might make. “States have complete autonomy in deciding who to allow enter their territory,” Reinsalu emphasized.

There is desire to involve other countries in the visa ban

According to the minister, other European Union member states have been recently informed of the intention of our region’s countries to enforce this visa policy in the future. However, there is no sign of a common agreement so far. “All the member states who spoke (the colleagues from Finland, Sweden, Norway and Iceland also participated in the meeting in Kaunas) said that they understand that the countries of our region are doing this," said Reinsalu, adding that he did not believe that the rest of the member states would consider the visa ban a problem. “We would be happy if other countries would also consider partial or full integration with the move.”

Finland, who does not plan to ban tourist visas in the near future, was also at the negotiating table in Kaunas. Due to their long land border with Russia, the northern neighbors may experience strong migration pressure in case of visa ban by the Baltic countries. Why doesn’t Finland want to join the visa ban yet?

“This is the decision of the Finnish state,” said Reinsalu. “At the moment, I have information at my disposal that these decisions are not going to be enforced by the methods and in the time frame which we have discussed,” the minister explained, adding, however, that Finland has decided to limit the issuing of new visas from September 1.

According to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, it is still important that the northern neighbors would be informed about future developments as well as possible. “It's no secret that the results of the decisions of the Baltic states will definitely affect the purely physical pressure on Finland's borders,” Reinsalu said, emphasizing once again that only each country can make the decision. “The real situation at the borders can also provoke changes in possible decisions from all parties involved,” he added.

Russian citizens no longer get preferential access to the European Union

On Tuesday, the European Commission proposed to completely suspend the application of the Visa Facilitation Agreement between the European Union and Russia.

With the proposal to suspend the Visa Facilitation Agreement, all simplifications for Russian citizens applying for a short-term visa to stay in the Schengen area will be abolished. Instead, the general rules of the visa regulations apply.

The practical consequences for Russian visa applicants are as follows:

higher visa fee: the visa fee for all applicants will increase from EUR 35 to EUR 80;

longer processing time: the usual period within which consulates must decide on visa application is extended from 10 days to 15 days. This time period can be extended up to 45 days in individual cases if the application needs to be further reviewed;

stricter rules on multiple entry visas: visa applicants will no longer be able to easily obtain visas valid for multiple entry into the Schengen area;

more documents are required from visa applicants: visa applicants must submit all required documents when applying for a visa. The simplified list of the Visa Facilitation Agreement no longer applies to them.

The EU will remain open to certain categories of travelers applying for visas for essential purposes, in particular family members of EU citizens, journalists, dissidents and representatives of civil society.