EU dithers on Russia tourist ban as Ukraine urges bloc to ‘shut door’

Russia: EU must survive Putin’s energy war to avoid invasion

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Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba issued his impassioned plea as the EU dithered over the best course of action, with both France and Germany arguing against a visa ban in response to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. European Union foreign ministers are likely to agree to suspend a visa facilitation agreement with Moscow and make Russians wait longer and pay more for their visas, diplomats said today – but the bloc remains split over whether to impose an outright EU travel ban.

One senior European Union diplomat said: “Suspension of the facilitation agreement is almost certain.”

But German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock argued in favour of not going further, saying: “It is crucial not to punish dissidents who are trying to leave Russia.”

In a joint memo, France and Germany said: “We caution against far-reaching restrictions on our visa policy, in order to prevent feeding the Russian narrative and trigger unintended rallying-around the flag effects and/or estranging future generations.”

However, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba scoffed at the idea that travelling to the West could change the Russians’ minds, pointing out Moscow had fought a brief war with Georgia and annexed Crimea since securing easier EU visas in 2007.

He stressed: “Travel to the EU has had zero transformative effect on Russia. To transform Russia, shut the door on Russian tourists.”

Eastern and Nordic countries strongly back a tourist visa ban and some said they could go for a regional one if there was no agreement at EU level.

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Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said: “If all 27 EU countries fail to reach an agreement, a regional solution for the countries most affected by the flow of Russian tourists may be sought in the future.”

Separately, EU defence ministers were also meeting in Prague on Tuesday and agreed to work on the less controversial step of preparing a joint EU mission to train Ukrainian troops.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters: “There are many training initiatives on the way but the needs are enormous and we need to ensure the coherence of these efforts.”

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Finland, which has a long land border with Russia and says it does not want to become a hub for Russian tourists entering the EU, has sharply cut the number of visas it grants them.

Earlier this month, Estonia closed its border to more than 50,000 Russians with previously issued visas, the first EU country to do so.

Meanwhile the Kremlin slammed talk of a tourist visa ban as “irrational.”

Describing the calls for a visa ban as an example of the West’s “anti-Russian agenda”, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “Step by step, unfortunately, both Brussels and individual European capitals are demonstrating an absolute lack of reason.”

Ironically, Mr Peskov’s wife, former Olympic skater Tatiana Navka, hit the headlines earlier this month after sharing a clip of her smashing plates while on holiday in Greece.

Also earlier this month, Russian dissident Andrey Sidelnikov Express.co.uk Britain’s next Prime Minister must ban all Russians without political asylum in the interests of national security.

The activist, who leads the London-based opposition movement Speak Up, “All of us who were born in Russia, with a Russian passport, it is our fault the war is going on now and we can’t do anything to stop it.

“A lot of Putin’s supporters live abroad, for a long period I have known in London, for example, there are thousands of supporters.

“Officially they change their mind and say they are against the war, but it is not true – most of them are just protecting their money and rich, good Western life.

“They say they have changed their mind, but they just want to save their criminal money.

Mr Sidelnikov added: “We see the governments of the West can’t understand if there is a good or bad Russian – maybe it is better to stop visas.

“Anyone who has one in the UK needs to be looked at more closely by the Home Office.

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