Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto Euronews said the government has approved plans to start limiting the number of visas they issue to Russians.
The Finnish government has come under increasing public and political pressure over the past ten days to close a perceived sanctions “loophole” that allows tens of thousands of Russians to reach the EU by car or bus via Finnish border crossings. even if the Russians are banned from the sanctions for the plane or the train to the European Union.
Haavisto says ministers gave the green light Thursday for a program that would limit the number of posts available to Russians in Finnish diplomatic missions in Russia, which has the effect of reducing the number of visas ultimately issued.
It is a short-term bureaucratic solution to a problem the Finns hope the EU will solve for them next meeting of foreign ministers in the Czech Republic at the end of August.
“We are certainly not the only country that has a problem with this problem,” said Haavisto.
“And if we reduce the amount of Schengen visas we issue, we should have a more coordinated EU approach,” he added.
Finns have 12 different categories of visas they can issue – including students, workers, family members and tourism – and Haavisto said the simplest and most legal way to reduce the number of tourist visas is to “prioritize time slots for other types of visas. visas and give a little less numbers to tourist visas “.
A wave of support to stop Russian tourists breaking sanctions
On a more basic level, Finns have shown their distaste for the influx of Russian tourists arriving across the border since mid-July, when Moscow abandoned the latest COVID-related border restrictions.
A youth political group paid for a huge billboard near the border crossing with Russia saying: “While you are on vacation, Ukrainians have no home to return to”; while the southeastern town of Lappeenranta, where most Russian hikers stop for shopping, will playing the Ukrainian national anthem every day in August and to hoist Urkain flags at the port of entry into Finland and in shopping centers.
Finnish retailers were reminded not to sell luxury goods to Russian tourists, which would be a violation of sanctions; Other Finnish customs agents confiscated some luxury items and “goods that can contribute to Russia’s industrial and military capabilities, such as aids used in navigation” in a series of tightened checks and searches on Russian tourists crossing the border.
Meanwhile a citizens’ initiative the request to ban new visas for Russians and cancel existing visas has garnered more than 7,000 signatures since it was launched in late July. The petition is expected to collect 50,000 signatures within six months for it to be considered by parliamentary committees.
“It is important to remember that the major issuers of Schengen visas for Russians are Greece, Italy and Spain,” Foreign Minister Haavisto, a veteran Green Party politician, told Euronews in a telephone interview from Helsinki.
“And when there are visas granted by those countries we cannot stop people at our borders, because Schengen guarantees non-discrimination based on nationality,” he noted.
Finns also want to be very careful not to prevent people from crossing the border for family reunification reasons: much of eastern Russia was part of Finland until it was given to the Russians as reparation after World War II, and there are deep and lasting cross-border family ties.
There are also on estimated 84,000 Russian native speakers living in Finland, many with Finnish partners and extended families. Haavisto says 30% of people crossing the border into Russia are now actually Finns.
“It is important for us to have a peaceful border and people who need to cross it can cross it. But we don’t want to become a passage to Helsinki airport that the Russians are starting to use as a transit point,” said euronews.
“This needs not just a Finnish decision, but a broader Schengen decision.”