Estonia to ban Russians with tourist visas from entering

COPENHAGEN (AP): Estonia decided Thursday to bar people from neigboring Russia with tourist visas from entering the northernmost Baltic country as a consequence of the war in Ukraine.

“Russian citizens’ opportunity to visit Estonia in large numbers or to visit Europe through Estonia is incompatible with the meaning of the sanctions we’ve established,” Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu was quoted as saying by the Baltic News Service said.

The European Union, of which Estonia is a member, already has banned air travel from Russia after it invaded Ukraine. But Russians can still travel by land to Estonia and apparently are then take flights to other European destinations.

By imposing the sanction, Estonia wants Russia “to be unable to continue its ordinary international life also at the level of its citizens,” Reinsalu said according to BNS, the region’s main news agency. He added that they had observed “a massive growth in the number of Russian citizens transiting through or arriving in Estonia.”

BNS said exceptions to Thursday’s sanction included Russian citizens with a long-term residence permit; those coming to visit close relatives; workers involved in the international transport of goods and passengers, as well as people entering the country for humanitarian reasons.

The Estonian sanction applies beginning Aug. 18. Estonia and Russia share a nearly 300 kilometer (186-mile) long border.

“I call on other governments to follow such steps,” Reinsalu wrote on Twitter.

Earlier this week, Estonian and Finnish leaders urged fellow European countries to stop issuing tourist visas to Russian citizens, saying they should not be able to take vacations in Europe while the Russian government carries out a war in Ukraine.

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas wrote Tuesday on Twitter that “visiting Europe is a privilege, not a human right” and that it is “time to end tourism from Russia now.”

A day earlier, her counterpart in Finland, Sanna Marin, told Finnish broadcaster YLE 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.”

Russian companies reportedly have started offering car trips from St. Petersburg to the airports in Helsinki and Lappeenranta in Finland, which have direct connections to several places in Europe. Russia’s second-largest city is 300 kilometers (186 miles) from the Finnish capital.

Visas issued by Finland and Estonia are valid across most of Europe’s visa-free travel zone, known as the “Schengen area” which is made up of 26 countries: 22 EU nations plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Normally, people and goods move freely between these countries without border checks. Nineteen other countries outside this travel area allow in foreigners using a Schengen visa.

Because of the war, Latvia has already decided it no longer is issuing visas to Russians. Poland said Wednesday that it was no longer issuing tourist visas to Russians.