Discussions among the relevant EU institutions to examine how the EU-Russia Visa Facilitation Agreement, which was fully suspended on Wednesday during the informal meeting of EU Foreign Ministers (Gymnich) in Prague, will begin as soon as possible, according to a Foreign Ministry press release issued on Thursday.
During the meeting, the majority of the member states, including Cyprus, opposed a horizontal ban on EU visas for Russian citizens. Instead, European Union Foreign Ministers suspended the visa facilitation deal with Moscow, making it difficult for Russians to obtain visas to travel to the bloc.
This, said the FM, does not imply a visa ban. Instead, it will make the visa process more demanding. EU member states, the Foreign Ministry added, continue to maintain the right to examine visa applications by Russian citizens which they can approve or reject.
Finland, however, began taking steps to cut the number of visas granted to Russian nationals. Beginning September 1st, Finland will only accept around 100 visas for tourist purposes from citizens of Russia. This means that Finland will cut the number of visas issued to Russians by 90 percent, SchengenVisaInfo.com reports.
In addition, according to Yle News, tourist visa applications from Russians will only be received on Mondays in four cities – St. Petersburg, Petrozavodsk, Murmansk, and Moscow.
Commenting on the government’s decision, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Finland, Pekka Haavisto, said that the country decided to take such measures because it does not want to become a transit country for Russians who wish to reach other European countries.
“We have become resentful of the idea of Finland becoming a transit country when air links from St Petersburg and Moscow to the West are not operating. They arrive at Helsinki airport and leave immediately for a holiday elsewhere. That is not the role Finland wants,” Haavisto said to Yle.
Several European countries, including Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Denmark, Finland, Poland, Norway, and Czechia, have already supported introducing restrictions for Russians.
Lithuania is one of the first countries that stopped issuing visas for Russians. Back in February, the authorities of Lithuania said that the country would no longer issue visas for Russians, including those who wish to enter the country for medical purposes.
Estonia has also already stopped issuing visas for Russians. Moreover, the country has also banned entry for all Russians who hold a visa issued by the Estonian authorities. Announcing the new restrictions for Russians, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Urmas Reinsalu, said earlier this month that such a decision was only right as by imposing restrictions, Estonia wanted to take away from citizens of Russia the opportunity to continue living normally.
Likewise, Latvia stopped issuing visas for Russians too. The authorities of Latvia suspended the cross-border deal they had with Russia on August 1.
[With information from Schengen Visa Info]