Since April, the number of Russian citizens entering Estonia has continued to rise each month, with the biggest increase seen in visa-holders, according to Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) data.
This April, a total of 40,300 Russian citizens entered Estonia via its eastern border, 24,124 of whom held residence permits, i.e. do not require a visa to enter the country. In July, that figure increased to 71,143 Russian citizens, including 30,969 residence permit holders.
"Over the past half a year, the number of Russian citizens entering Estonia from Russia has been increasing moderately, but steadily," said PPA Deputy Director General for Border Management Egert Belitšev. "This despite the fact that Estonia has stopped issuing visas and is generally not permitting people with previously issued visas to enter Estonia."
In response to Russia's aggression in Ukraine, Estonia stopped issuing tourist visas to Russian citizens as of March 10, and since August 18, it has banned the entry of Russian citizens with tourist visas previously issued by Estonia.
Belitšev said that an average of 2,500 Russian citizens a day are entering Estonia, nearly half of whom have Estonian residence permits. "This is more than during the previous two summers, but nearly two times less than in the pre-COVID period," he said, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic that reached Estonia in 2020.
While 1,636,906 Russian citizens entered Estonia in 2018, including 671,144 people with Estonian residence permits, and 1,642,201 Russian citizens entered the country in 2019, including 606,430 with residence permits, these figures dropped significantly over the next few years.
In 2020, a total of 392,269 Russian citizens entered Estonia, including 137,121 holders of Estonian residence permits. Last year, 238,750 Russian citizens entered the country, among them 136,079 residence permit holders.
In the first seven months of this year, 312,734 Russian citizens have entered Estonia, including 167,810 holders of Estonian residence permits.
According to the deputy director general, there are several factors behind the abundance of arrivals Estonia is seeing thus far this year.
"First of all, air connections with Russia were cut off following the war started by [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, and Russian citizens who want to travel to France, Italy or Spain, for example, use Schengen visas issued by those countries to enter Estonia in order to travel onward from here," he explained.
The growth in numbers was further accelerated by Russia dropping COVID-related travel restrictions in mid-July.
"Also certainly contributing to the growth is the active summer vacation period," Belitšev added.
According to the Border Guard chief, the PPA has prevented Russian citizens from entering Estonia on an average of 200 occasions a month over the summer.
"We thoroughly check all arrivals in the country in any case and ensure that the purpose of their trip really is what their visa was issued for and that the arrival won't pose a threat to public policy or security," he said.
Belitšev also said that he doesn't consider it right or just that, in a situation where tens of millions of Ukrainians are suffering as a result of Russia's hostilities, that country's citizens can vacation in Europe.
"We fully support Estonia's foreign policy aspirations to find a solution for this at the international level," he said.
Editor: Aili Vahtla