Russians Scramble For Visas As EU Urges "Coordinated Approach" On Travel Bans

The European Commission has said it is still weighing a travel ban for all Russian nationals, but stressed in a Thursday statement that some member states have individually begun to impose restrictions on visas, but that none has ceased issuing them completely.

Commission spokesperson Anitta Hipper called for a "coordinated approach" among EU countries, saying in a Thursday press briefing in Brussels that "visa activities have not stopped completely and in particular the humanitarian cases are catered for."

She said that Russia's ongoing assault on Ukraine had created "unprecedented challenges" for the entirety of the EU, and for that reason had "acted immediately" to suspend a visa facilitation agreement with Moscow on February 25, the day after the invasion.

EU foreign ministers are set to meet later in August, and the proposed travel ban will be on on the agenda, she said. Ukrainian government under President Zelensky has been lobbying hard for the European Union as well as the United States to shut their borders to any and all Russian travelers for a period of at least one year.

"The most important sanctions are to close the borders — because the Russians are taking away someone else’s land," Zelensky told The Washington Post in an interview published over a week ago. He stressed that as punishment Russian citizens should "live in their own world until they change their philosophy" - before being allowed to travel in the West. "They’ll understand then," he said.

Estonia and Finland were among the first European countries to back the call, and took steps to impose their own restrictions for Russian travel.

The Moscow Times reports that Russians seeking to travel abroad are now racing against the clock ahead of proposed tighter travel restrictions especially to the Baltics:

Finland said Tuesday it will reduce the number of visas issued to Russians by 90% starting next month and Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia have recently also announced restrictions on tourist visas for Russians.

The three Baltic states and Finland, which share land borders with Russia, have reported an increase in the numbers of Russians using their airports to transit further into the EU as a workaround to the bloc’s ban on Russian airlines.

Further the report underscores that "The number of applications for Schengen visas — which give access to most EU countries — submitted by Russians has risen rapidly in recent weeks, according to tour agencies contacted by The Moscow Times."

One major Russian tour and travel industry insider was quoted as saying the number Schengen visa applications made by Russian citizens has doubled in only two weeks.

Last week the Kremlin blasted the proposal as "irrational" and painted it as racist and xenophobic. It remains that the EU were to tell 145 million Russians they can no longer travel to Europe for any reason in a sweeping ban, it goes without saying that this would be unlikely to impact Putin's war-time decision making in any way. Instead, it would only serve to punish common people, who also have a wide range of views regarding the war in Ukraine.

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