European Union foreign ministers on Wednesday suspended a visa facilitation agreement with Moscow, making it difficult for Russians to obtain visas to travel to the bloc.
However, the bloc moved away from agreeing to the EU-wide visa ban demanded by Ukraine and many other member states.
The EU was too divided at this point to agree to a blanket ban, nor did it spell out what unilateral measures Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Finland, which have land borders with Russia, could take to restrict access to Russian visitors.
These five countries welcomed the suspension of the Russian visa facilitation deal as a step in the right direction, but four of them stressed that more needed to be done to “significantly” reduce the number of visas issued and Russians traveling into the bloc since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February.
“Until such measures are implemented at the EU level, we … will consider introducing temporary measures at the national level to ban visas, or restrict border crossings for Russian citizens holding EU visas, in order to address imminent public security issues,” Latvia Lithuania, Estonia and Poland said in a joint statement.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko was quoted by the RIA news agency as saying that Moscow would not let this step stand “without consequences.”
“If Brussels decides to shoot them in the foot again, that’s their choice,” he said.
Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lebavsky said the EU’s executive committee would already be looking at ways forward, including what could be done with what Lebavsky said about 12 million Schengen visas had already been issued to Russians – a reference to the 26-nation open border area.
The head of EU foreign policy, Josep Borrell, has argued that suspending the visa facilitation deal would already have a real impact.
This will significantly reduce the number of new visas issued by EU member states. It will be more difficult. “It will take longer,” he told a news conference at the end of the two-day meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Prague.
Borrell said the significant increase in border crossings from Russia to neighboring countries since mid-July made it necessary to suspend the visa facilitation agreement.
“This has become a security threat to these neighboring countries,” he added.
In addition, we saw many Russians traveling for leisure and shopping as if there was no war raging in Ukraine. “
More than a million Russian citizens have entered the bloc via land border crossing points since the start of the Ukrainian invasion, most of them via Finland and Estonia, the bloc’s border agency Frontex said.
Ukraine has repeatedly said that Russian citizens must pay for the invasion, which, according to the United Nations, killed thousands of civilians and brought cities to the ground.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba earlier on Wednesday reiterated calls for a visa ban from the European Union, saying it would be an “appropriate response to Russia’s aggressive genocidal war in the heart of Europe with the support of the overwhelming majority of Russian citizens”.
But France and Germany differed.
“We caution against far-reaching restrictions on our visa policy, in order to prevent feeding the Russian narrative and provoke an unintended detour around the effects of the flag and/or alienate future generations,” they said in a joint note.