Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu said that Estonia will propose restricting Russian citizens' access to Europe as a main rule. He also believes Estonia should emulate Latvia in requiring Russian citizens who wish to enter Estonia to sign a declaration condemning Putin's war in Ukraine, which principle should also apply to citizenship through naturalization.
"Life reveals loopholes. Russian citizens can still access Estonia even after we stopped issuing visas. They simply get another country's Schengen visa. That loophole needed to be closed," Reinsalu said on the "Vikerhommik" radio show when explaining the government's decision to limit issuing fixed-term residence permits and study visas for Russian and Belarusian citizens.
The foreign minister said that, broadly speaking, three groups of Russian citizen are coming to Estonia. "The first and smallest group. Even though we've stopped issuing new visas, there are some humanitarian exceptions. For example, people visiting sick relatives. But their numbers have also fallen drastically.
The second group is comprised of people with valid visas. "Estonia has generally not revoked valid visas yet. However, this is something that needs to be considered. Estonia has issued over 50,000 valid Schengen visas for Russian citizens, which is too many," Reinsalu sad.
The third group is made up of Russian citizens with visas from other Schengen states. "Because there is no air traffic, these people have started to cross the western border either for the purposes of tourism or something else. The airports in Tallinn and Riga are seeing the bulk of pressure. But traffic is also up in Finland. Things picked up when Russia lifted its coronavirus restrictions that had kept Russian citizens from leaving the country," the minister explained.
He added that the simplest "remedy" would be pan-European restrictions. "This would require cutting off Russian citizens' access to Europe as a main rule, which is what Estonia will propose. The other concerns national rights, restricting Russian citizens' access to our country."
He said that he would prefer Europe-wide rules that were first proposed in March but were not taken forward as Covid restrictions in Russia kept people in.
"I will be meeting with EU foreign ministers in Prague later in August where I will introduce the pan-European restrictions plan," the Estonian foreign minister promised.
Reinsalu said a similar discussion is underway in Finland that has continued issuing tourism visas, which has created ample polemic.
"The Finns are denying 50 percent of visas. I would urge countries in the region, especially those sharing a border with Russia, to stop issuing tourist visas that are unthinkable in wartime and put an end to busy cross-border traffic."
Reinsalu added that the number of people looking to leave Russia has grown considerably since the start of the war.
"Latvia has a principle that we could emulate. Russian citizens, upon entering the country, have to sign a document declaring to condemn Putin's war in Ukraine. The principle could also be used in naturalization," the minister proposed.
Editor: Marcus Turovski