How Finland saves Russian holidays in Europe

How Finland saves Russian holidays in Europe

Finland is preparing to join NATO, a historic membership that has already created high tensions with Moscow. In the meantime, however, it is thanks to the Finns that the Russians can continue to vacation in Europe. Yes, because the Scandinavian country remains the only EU border country that issues tourist visas for travelers from Russia. Currently it would be over 100,000. A “generosity” that has caused some controversy in Helsinki, but not only.

The Finnish Conservative Party proposed to stop issuing new tourist visas to Russians: “The situation is unbearable – attacks on Jukka Kopra, a deputy from the National Coalition Party – Ukrainians are being killed, including civilians, women and children, and at the same time Russians are going on vacation in the EU”. Aki Lindén, leader of the Social Democrats and member of the Sanna Marin government, also agrees: “I personally think that the restrictions need to be tightened,” he told AFP.

The “paradox” came into sharp focus when Finland lifted Covid restrictions in late June and Russia eased its restrictions in mid-July: within weeks, the number of Russian tourists crossing the border rose steadily from 125,000 in June to over 185,000 in the month July. Most have had tourist visas for years, others have recently applied (at least 10,000 in July). The fact that, since EU airspace is closed to flights from Russia, Finland has also become the platform from which other EU countries can be reached, with the only two alternative routes, namely those through Turkey and Serbia, avoided and which are much more expensive.

St. Petersburg bus companies are doing big business, because the train that connects the Russian city with Helsinki was also stopped because of sanctions: “In the last few weeks, our buses have been systematically full. People want to use that. Balt Car’s Sergei Ivanov told AFP. But not only Russians do business: For the Finnish border towns, tourists are an important source of income. “The way I see it, we should take their money,” Social Democratic Party member Veikko Vallin wrote on Twitter, referring to Russian tourists having a respite from financial difficulties, tax revenues would increase and so on.”

From a legal point of view, the granting of tourist visas to Russians does not violate the EU sanctions against Moscow, which are “mainly and specifically” aimed at the Russian government and the Russian business elite, said a spokesman for the European Commission. The purpose of the sanctions is to prevent the Kremlin from funding the aggressive war in Ukraine, and not against ordinary citizens. According to the Schengen Regulation, the issuance of visas should be assessed on a case-by-case basis to determine whether the applicant could endanger public policy, national security or international relations of a Member State.

Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, the other EU countries bordering Russia, have decided to stop issuing these visas. Moscow “will react very negatively” if Helsinki imitates them, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday.