Will Russian citizens soon no longer receive Schengen visas? While calls for this are getting louder in the EU, thousands of Russian tourists are using Finland as a transit country to the West. From Riga Yuri Rescheto.
Buses take Russian travelers from St. Petersburg to Helsinki Airport
My Russian friend Artjom likes Finland: beautiful lakes, friendly people, clean air. He knows the country because he has been there often. Artjom lives in St. Petersburg and uses the Finnish consulate's simplified visa system in his hometown, which has been in place for years. Even now that at least the direct air route to Europe has been closed to the Russians. Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the European sky has been closed to Russian aircraft and vice versa, EU aircraft are no longer allowed to fly to Russia.
That's why Artyom drives a car. Helsinki and back every few weekends, almost 400 kilometers. The one-way route takes about five hours. It's also quicker if he only drives to Lappeenranta, the next largest Finnish town near the Russian border.
No European vacation for Russians
But unlike my acquaintance Artyom, thousands of other Russian tourists are not coming back. At least not right away. Many of them drive directly from the Russian border to Helsinki-Vantaa Airport to fly further west on vacation. Russians have applied for nearly 60,000 Finnish visas since the beginning of the year, Finnish media have calculated. Most Schengen visa applicants came from St. Petersburg. And it is precisely this gateway to Europe that is now worrying many Europeans. While Moscow is bombing Ukrainian cities, Russian citizens cannot possibly enjoy summer vacations in the West, it is argued.
To Greece and back via Helsinki – Thousands of Russian holidaymakers are drawn to the sun
The Baltic States have not been a travel destination for Russians for months anyway. Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia no longer issue tourist visas to Russian nationals. Latvia goes even further and now only allows entry into the country in the event of the death of a close relative.
The heads of government of Finland and Estonia recently called on other European countries to stop issuing tourist visas to Russians. In Finland, 58 percent of the population no longer want tourist visas for Russians – according to a survey by the public television station Yle.
Russians can still apply for Schengen visas
EU-wide visa ban for Russians discussed
At the end of August, Schengen visas for Russians are to be an issue at the meeting of EU foreign ministers in Prague Schengen area.
The EU has 27 member states, not all of which belong to the Schengen area of 26 members. Four countries – Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein – which also issue Schengen visas are not members of the European Union at all.
In an interview with DW, Dmitri Lanko from the Chair for European Research at St. Petersburg State University criticizes “the striving to punish all Russians.” The category “Russians” does not only include ethnic Russians, he argues, but also “Tatars, Chechens and representatives of all peoples of the Russian Federation without exception, including Ukrainians living in Russia.”
Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kalas added fuel to the fire and tweeted: “Visiting Europe is a privilege, not a human right”. Your words are met with a great deal of incomprehension in Russia. Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called the quote “nonsense” coming from “Estonian fantasists”. Zakharova sneered on Telegram: “The real privilege is being lucky enough to see Russia in all its diversity and magnificence.”
Don't fight tourists “because of geopolitics”< /p>
For Alexander Gorokhov of the Union of Russian Tourist Organizations “Sonato” this exchange of blows is an “emotional outburst”. He reminded DW that Russian tourists bring in money, even if it's transit tourism. “In my opinion, these countries should fight to turn this flow of transit tourists into a real tourist flow with overnight stays etc.,” Gorokhov suggests and stands for pragmatic solutions: one should not fight tourists “because of geopolitics”.
Helsinki at sunrise
My friend Artjom from St. Petersburg would like to too did not get “caught in the cogs of geopolitics”, especially since neither he nor his friends ever voted for Vladimir Putin. However, he understands a possible visa ban. Artjom is planning a new short trip to Lappeenranta at the weekend. As long as possible.