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EU plans to suspend deal easing Russian visa requests

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The European Union plans to make it harder for Russians to travel to the bloc by suspending a deal that eases their visa applications, an EU diplomat said Monday.

“We cannot continue the visa policy as it has been up to now,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Prague to discuss Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Tourism is not a human right,” he added, underlining the symbolic importance of the 2007 visa facilitation agreement, which marked an attempt to build more positive engagement with Moscow.

The measure, which could come into force in October if approved by member states, does not amount to a formal ban on tourism visas demanded by some of Russia’s EU neighbours.

But it would complicate the process of obtaining travel permission and could slow the flow of Russians travelling to Europe, increasing Moscow’s international isolation.

The EU had already suspended visa facilitation for Russian official delegations and business leaders, but now plans to extend this to other short stay visits. 

Russian forces invaded Ukraine in February, launching the most intense war in Europe for decades and triggering waves of sanctions from Kyiv’s Western allies.

Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland have urged Brussels to ban Russian tourists from obtaining visas for the EU’s Schengen common travel area.

But some countries, notably Germany, oppose a complete ban.

Flights to and from Russia are banned, so many Russian tourists who are issued Schengen visas by western European countries cross overland into the bloc via Finland and the Baltic states.

Lithuania has warned that Russia’s EU neighbours may close their borders to tourists if the other EU capitals do not agree to a visa ban.

The issue will be debated at a two-day meeting of EU foreign ministers in Prague, starting Tuesday, but it is not expected to be resolved.

The diplomatic source said he expected a “robust debate” at the meeting but said a full visa ban would have to be part of a new sanctions package and receive the unanimous backing of member states.

An eventual ban could have exemptions for humanitarian cases and for students and civil society.

The 26 countries in the Schengen travel zone — 22 EU member states plus Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein — handled 536,000 Russian short stay visa requests last year. 

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