European Union (EU) foreign ministers decided on Wednesday to toughen visa rules for Russian citizens, a compromise arrangement after failing to reach a consensus on a total tourist ban.
The move, which must still be formally approved by all member states, will freeze a 2007 visa facilitation agreement and make it more difficult and costly for Russian travelers to obtain Schengen-area documents.
The measure falls short of a blanket EU-wide visa ban demanded by Ukraine and some member states, including Poland, Latvia, and the Czech Republic. “There won’t be a general blanket visa ban imposed for Russian citizens,” said Hungarian foreign minister Peter Szijjarto. “Several member states have raised their voice against this, including myself.” Germany and France both strongly opposed such a ban, arguing that it is unfair and counterproductive to punish all Russians for the decisions of the Kremlin. Critics of the proposal added that a blanket ban would feed into the pro-Kremlin narrative that a Russophobic West is subjecting Russians to rampant ethnic discrimination and make it more difficult for persecuted Russian dissidents to escape the country. “The U.S. wouldn’t want to close off pathways to refuge and safety for Russia’s dissidents or others who are vulnerable to human rights abuses,” the Biden administration said, which registered its opposition to a total visa ban late last month.
Several EU countries, including Finland and Estonia, have already taken unilateral action to suspend or drastically curtail the inflows of Russian citizens. “The possibility for Russian citizens to visit Estonia en masse or through Estonia to Europe is not in line with the purpose of the sanctions we have imposed. When imposing sanctions, Estonia wanted that the aggressor country would not have the opportunity to continue normal international life at the level of its citizens,” Estonian foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu said last month.
The EU measure elicited a rare moment of agreement between the warring sides, with both Moscow and Kyiv blasting the decision.
“This is bad for Russians, because it will take longer and be more difficult to get a visa,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, according to Reuters. Peskov described the new EU restrictions as “another ridiculous decision in an ongoing series of absurdities,” adding that Moscow will respond in a way that “best suits its interests.”
Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba denounced the compromise as a “half-measure” that is worse than doing nothing. “The age of peace in Europe is over, and so is the age of half measures. Half measures is exactly what led to the large-scale invasion,” he said after the meeting. “If I have to choose between half measure and no measure, I will prefer a no measure and continue a discussion until a strong solution is found.”
Mark Episkopos is a national security reporter for the National Interest.