A coach brought passengers from St. Petersburg to Helsinki Airport on Tuesday, 26 July 2022. Many Finnish policy makers would be prepared to restrict the issuance of tourist visas to Russians over the war in Ukraine. (Anni Ågren – Lehtikuva)


A SPOKESPERSON at the European Commission on Thursday stressed to Helsingin Sanomat that the EU has targeted its sanctions primarily and specifically at the central government and elites in Russia, rather than ordinary Russians.

The objective of the sanctions is to prevent the Kremlin from financing its war of aggression in Ukraine.

Helsingin Sanomat asked the European Commission whether it would be possible for the 27-country bloc to make a joint decision to suspend the issuance of tourist visas to Russia, an idea that has recently garnered substantial support in Finland. Many in Finland have lamented the fact that Russians are able to travel to Finland and rest of Europe while Russia is continuing its brutal offensive in Ukraine.

Finland opened its eastern border for tourists at the beginning of the month as travel restrictions linked to the coronavirus pandemic were lifted. With the EU prohibiting Russian aircraft from using its airspace, Russians are using Finland not only as a holiday destination, but also as a transit point en route to other parts of Europe.

The EU’s visa rules do not allow for the complete suspension of visa issuance, the spokesperson told Helsingin Sanomat.

Applications for Schengen visas, they added, should be evaluated and processed by each member state on a case-by-case basis. The member state should determine whether the applicant could pose a threat to public order, national security or international relations in any member state.

Pauli Rautiainen, a lecturer specialising in public law at the University of Eastern Finland, stated to YLE on Thursday that national decisions on visa applications should principally comply with the rules of the Schengen Area.

There is some leeway, though.

“Legally speaking, each member state applies the rules independently. The rules don’t provide the option to completely stop issuing visas,” he said.

Also Finnish ruling parties have expressed their clear willingness to the public broadcaster to continue the issuance of tourist visas to certain individuals, such as dissidents and those travelling for family reasons. Leaders from all ruling parliamentary groups, however, also indicated they are prepared to impose some restrictions on leisure travel from Russia to Finland.

Many stated to the public broadcaster that decisions on restricting the issuance of tourist visas to Russians should be made jointly by the EU and Schengen Area.

“I’m still calling for a common European approach. Given that there are also other countries with external border facing Russia, we should all make the same EU-level decision to close the borders for Russians,” said Juha Pylväs, the chairperson of the Centre Parliamentary Group. “It’ll undermine the system when others inevitably start slipping.”

Rautiainen reminded that it is important to distinguish between the granting of new visas and travelling with an existing one.

“Finland has already granted a significant number of visas to Russians, and the discussion on what we should do about them is legally completely different from the discussion on how new visas should be issued,” he said.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT