Diplomat: Around 20,000 Estonian citizens still reside in Russia

The newly renovated Estonian Embassy in Moscow.
The newly renovated Estonian Embassy in Moscow. Source: KAOS Arhitektid

While a large number of Russian citizens would like to get exit visas from that country in the current situation, there are also around 20,000 Estonian citizens resident in the Russian Federation, a diplomat from the Estonian embassy in Moscow says.

The Estonian citizens now have few options for leaving Russia, as EU and other countries have closed off their airspace to all Russian aircraft, however, leaving practically the only Europe-bound destination being Istanbul, via Turkish Airlines, Tarmo Punnik, the embassy's consular director, told ERR, in an interview which follows.

Do we have any indication as to how many Estonian citizens there are in Russia at the moment?

We have a certain overview, one which does not claim to be the absolute truth.

I have just checked, and 41 people have registered a temporary stay in Russia during the month of February. 

Taking into account the fact that the Russian embassy does not issue visas, while the regulations issued by the Russian Prime Minister (Mikhail Mishustin - ed.) in March 2020, in fact significantly restricted entry to and departure from Russia, and remain in force. 

These have been barriers to the extent that only close relatives - parents, children, grandchildren, grandparents and spouses - can really enter Russia. This is what he circle of communication is limited to; who can actually cross the Russian border at the moment.

Another consideration is the number of Estonian citizens permanently residing in Russia, which comes to about 20,000 people. 

Half of them live in the St. Petersburg district and the other half are spread out across Russia.

Have people approached the embassy, and also our consulates in St Petersburg, and in Pskov, in order to get home?

Yes they have. And not only our people, but also EU citizens, and right now with the current meeting with the Schengen colleagues, I am giving an overview of the work at the Estonian border checkpoints and the possibility of using Estonia as a transit country.

In essence, flight links with Russia has been cut off to Europe. It is definitely permitted to fly from Moscow to Shanghai, or from Shanghai to Russia if the flight is with a Chinese airline. However, air traffic with Europe has been disrupted.

Air traffic between them has indeed been disrupted.

I have not yet read any news saying that Turkish Airlines' flights to Russia have been disrupted or that there is no connection to Istanbul, however. 

This would be the only viable, as well as the shortest way, into Europe today. At least as of the day before yesterday, when, in connection with a consular case, I was looking into flying through Istanbul.

 It still existed then. I haven't checked it as of today. But since I am constantly following this news, I have not read anything to the effect that Istanbul is closed.

Have Russian citizens also applied to your embassies and consulates for visas?

We currently issue visas to all those who wish to do so; we process them in the manner prescribed by the regulatory enactments of the EU and of Estonia. 

There are no differences in this regard, while Russian citizens turn to us not only for a visa, but also out of a desire to leave Russia because of these tense events.

How many such applicants have there been?

We currently have about a hundred emails, and since the phone line is totally engaged, we opened another one. We are on a kind of crisis-like mode here.

You are at the center of events in Moscow. Do you think we can expect a wave of refugees from Russia?

Given how many people have had problems here, even in participating in a number of demonstrations, and so on, and given the sanctions imposed, which will undoubtedly worsen the living standards of the local populace, this certainly cannot be ruled out.

How are you doing there at the embassy? Do you still dare to venture outside?

You also have to be careful on the outside in the sense that you don't end up accidentally getting into the middle of a demonstration where you could end up in the wrong place.

You must keep your eyes focused both in front and behind, and caution and attention must be maintained. We can do this, we will keep the Estonian flag flying high. 

It is not easy, but there is also nothing that would directly interfere with living or seem very dangerous.

Has the number of people at the embassy remained the same, or have some employees left for Estonia?

The number of people at the Moscow embassy has remained the same and family members are considering the convenience and safety of staying her.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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