EU divided over visa bans for Russian tourists

PRAGUE, Aug 30 (Reuters) – Germany and France have issued a joint warning against banning tourist visas for Russians, saying such a move, advocated by other European Union member states, will would be counterproductive.

The split over tourist visas will be the focus of a meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers in Prague on Tuesday and Wednesday, as they discuss further steps they can take to sanction Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. six months old.

“We caution against sweeping restrictions on our visa policy, to avoid fueling the Russian narrative and triggering unintended rallying around flag effects and/or alienating future generations,” they said. France and Germany said in the joint note seen by Reuters.

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The Kremlin said calls for a visa ban on Russian tourists were the latest example of the West’s anti-Russian agenda.

“Step by step, unfortunately, Brussels and individual European capitals are showing an absolute lack of reason,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a conference call with reporters.

“These are very serious decisions that could be directed against our citizens, and of course such decisions cannot go unanswered,” he added.

“But in responding, we will do so in a way that best serves our interests and protects the interests of our citizens.”

The two main EU countries, Germany and France, argue for scrutiny of Russian visa applications for security risks, but say visas should still be issued.

“We must not give up supporting pro-democracy elements in Russian society,” they said. “Our visa policies should reflect this and continue to allow person-to-person contact in the EU with Russian nationals unrelated to the Russian government.

“We must not underestimate the transformative power of the direct experience of living in democratic systems, especially for future generations,” they added.

CLEAR MESSAGE

Others, especially Eastern and Nordic Member States, have argued strongly for a ban.

“It is very provocative for me to see Russian men on European beaches in southern Europe and at the same time Ukrainian men between 18 and 60 cannot even leave their country but have to fight for their freedom” said Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod. Last week.

“We think it is right that we, together in Europe, can limit and cut off tourists from Russia and that would send a clear message to (President) Putin.”

An EU diplomat said foreign ministers could agree in principle to suspend a visa facilitation deal with Russia, which would mean Russians would face a longer procedure and pay 80 euros instead of 35 for EU visas, but that divisions over tourist visa bans were too deep for any agreement on this.

Russians mainly enter the EU through the land borders of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Finland, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said last week, adding that these countries could act alone if the EU does not agree on an EU-wide ban. . Read more

Meanwhile, defense ministers meeting in Prague are expected to agree in principle on the least controversial step of organizing joint military training missions for Ukrainian troops.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said he hoped ministers would give him the green light to start work on an EU military training mission for Ukraine.

“A number of EU countries already organize training for Ukrainians, but I think it would be good to… make sure that the EU collectively does this in an organized way that can last for a while” said Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney. in Prague.

The Netherlands also backed the idea, saying it was working on demining training with Germany.

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Reporting by Sabine Siebold, Jan Lopatka, Ingrid Melander and Bart Meijer; Written by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Alex Richardson and Ed Osmond

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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