Minister of the Interior Lauri Läänemets said that Schengen visa rules make it impossible to stop people who have been issued a visa by another Schengen country from entering Estonia. He believes the matter should be tackled on the European level.
Since Russia lifted border crossing restrictions due to the coronavirus on July 15, the number of Russian Federation citizens crossing the Estonian border has grown considerably. Estonia grants practically no visas to Russian citizens and only does so in very specific cases.
Other European countries have continued issuing visas to Russians. Estonia cannot stop people issued visas by other countries and those issued previously from entering the country, Läänemets said.
"We share Schengen space, meaning that people holding other countries' visas can come to Estonia and often use it as a transit country," he remarked.
There is little Estonia can do about this by itself. "We could consider cutting Russian citizens who enter Estonia with another country's Schengen visa off from the possibility of working. We can take those kinds of measures," the minister said.
Läänemets does not consider it a good idea to close Estonia's borders to Russia altogether. "The problem is that some people, including Estonian citizens, need to be able to cross the border. A certain level of commerce is also still taking place."
The interior minister said that the only way to limit Russian tourists' access to Europe and Estonia is through EU-wide sanctions. "Sanctions for Russia should be universal and consistent in Europe. If the Baltics and Poland remain the only ones, the effect [of sanctions} will be that much smaller," Läänemets said.
"A situation where women and children are being murdered and attempts made to rob a people of its freedom in Europe is not one where we should be selective about sanctions. The effort needs to be maximal. I believe this issue needs to be raised on the EU level. We will have to agree on who will take the message on the government level."
Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) told Delfi on Sunday that he believes travel restrictions for Russian citizens should be agreed on the level of the EU. Reinsalu said he has discussed the matter with his Latvian and Finnish colleagues and that the ministry is preparing to take it to the EU.
Foreign minister: It is curious how Russian citizens can visit the Louvre while children are being murdered in Ukraine
Speaking on the "Ringvaade" TV show on Monday, Reinsalu said the ministry is working on proposals for the EU to stop issuing visas to Russian citizens.
"The idea is for the European Union to stop issuing visas to Russian citizens under normal circumstances, as is the case in Estonia." There are humanitarian exceptions, for example, for Alexey Navalny's allies, that are processed separately," Reinsalu explained.
"But it is curious how masses of Russian tourists can cross the western border - through Finland, Latvia, Lithuania - and visit the Louvre during the summer school break, while children are being murdered in Ukraine. A morally helpless situation," he added.
Reinsalu said that Estonia should consider whether to revoke visas that have already been issued in certain cases. Another possibility is to weigh border-crossing restrictions.
The foreign minister said that visas for Russian citizens were discussed in the EU back in March, while Russia's Covid restrictions meant that travel was more modest at the time.
The ministry hopes to finish drafting the proposals in the coming weeks.
"I have mentioned this issue to the foreign ministers of Finland and Latvia, and we will definitely be consulting governments in the region to try and find support for the initiative," Reinsalu said.
"We need all countries on board. We will raise the issue again, and I am hopeful in terms of support. The situation is not what it was in spring."
The article was updated to add comments from Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu.
Editor: Marcus Turovski