Foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) said ordinary Russian citizens cannot be treated as a separate category from that country's leader, Vladimir Putin, the aggressor in the current conflict in Ukraine.
Reinsalu was referring to a ban on entry of Russian citizens holding Estonia-issued Schengen visas, announced on Thursday and to come into force on August 18.
The foreign minister made his remarks in an interview with ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" on Thursday (August 11) which follows in its entirety.
Let's start with the visa restrictions. Germany's Chancellor Olaf Scholz has made it clear that he does not support the suspension of Russian tourist visas. Have you considered the possibility that Russia's border countries will be left alone in the EU, a regards this proposal?
I want to count on the widest possible support. I am not in an agreement with an approach whereby we look at "ordinary" Russian citizens and distinguish them from Putin. The war is being prosecuted by the Russian Federation, as a state. Without a doubt, Russian citizens, by their passivity, bear moral responsibility for this. This means that Estonia's message is that Europe must impose sanctions, and our message, as the Estonian state, insofar as it is within our competence to impose these sanctions, is that Russian citizens are not welcome with us.
How do you intend to persuade your colleagues in, for example, Germany, though I would imagine this would also apply to Cyprus, Greece, maybe Italy?
From the moral perspective. By fact that it is completely morally unacceptable that we allow hundreds of thousands of Russian citizens to travel on tourist trips while children are being blown to pieces in Ukraine with missiles, literally paid for by the tax money from these same Russian citizens.
How long can Estonia impose this sanction alone?
Estonia can impose a sanction relating to visas issued by the Estonian state for an indefinite period. By doing so, we will essentially draw the line for the majority, the lion's share, of the Schengen visas we issue, effective next week, period. Second, we are analyzing making pan-European proposals.
And third, from next week the cabinet will start discussing options for barring the entry of Russian citizens across the Estonian border altogether, with legal procedures. This requires a legal analysis from the point of view of the Schengen visa regulations, though I have this goal in mind.
What will happen to those Russian students who have already started studying in Estonia, when the annual grace period ends? Applying for asylum is cumbersome and time-consuming. Why can't we allow them to stay longer in Estonia?
On a case-by-case basis you could ask that about every individual, but the fact remains that the cabinet made the decision today, for sure based on human consideration, and the decision is that if focuses on the year and the point.
I think it's reasonable for people to take a yearly perspective. As the Minister of the Interior said, if there are objective circumstances whereby one individual is at risk of persecution, his or her case will be processed separately.
Such cases could build up considerably if, for instance, students protest the war
There can be such cases, right, this has been appreciated. But the fact that they are simply a citizen of the Russian Federation is certainly not a basis for granting political asylum in isolation. The real danger we have right now, in my view, is that we have hundreds of thousands of Russian citizens moving around, and we are in danger of this overpopulation of Russian citizens traveling o and fro here which makes it actually so difficult for us to monitor the situation from a security point of view, and second, this is also morally, I think, very doubtful.
Let's talk about the ditching of the [16+1] China cooperation format – why do that now?
For the simple reason that it makes sense, and that I discussed it with the Foreign Minister of Latvia before. Estonia and Latvia announced their decision today. We prefer EU cooperation. And there is certainly an element here in that China has not condemned the Russian Federation's war against Ukraine in clear terms.
Let's talk briefly about the Narva tank as well. The mayor of Narva, Katri Raik, promises that the tank will be moved by August 20. Does this suffice?
The Secretary of State in his letter today made it clear that the government expects this tank to be moved within the next week. A government decision is in force to remove the tank and indeed any red monuments from the public space in Narva as soon as possible. Let's see what the decision of the Narva council will be on Monday. I really hope that it will not be one which leaves questions in the air. This clear line is, Narva is a city in the Republic of Estonia, and the Republic of Estonia shares our values, and based on these values, we shape our future.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Merili Nael
Source: AK, Johannes Tralla