Russian citizens holding Schengen tourist visas will be barred from entering Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland from September 19, the government said on Thursday.
"We want, together with Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, to significantly limit the entry of Russian citizens whose goal is tourism. Today, together with the prime ministers of Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, we will make a statement on this matter. We have already assessed this as necessary," Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) said during the government's weekly press conference.
She emphasized that a number of restrictions will be in place, including for truck drivers, diplomats and humanitarian reasons.
One of the reasons for imposing the entry ban is security as Estonia cannot thoroughly check every arrival, she said.
Estonia is currently using an enormous amount of resources to keep its border secure as Russia is waging both a physical war in Ukraine and a hybrid war, the prime minister added.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) said Russians should not come to Estonia. "You are not welcome here!" he said, adding the ban will take effect from September 19.
Minister of Interior Lauri Läänemets (SDE) said Russian citizens holding Schengen visas will not be able to enter Estonia via the country's external border with Russia for the purpose of tourism, sports or culture from that date onwards.
"With this, we are closing an important path to the European Union for Russian citizens," he said.
The Ministry of Interior estimates the number of Russians entering Estonia each day will fall from between 500-400 to approximately 100.
On Wednesday, it was announced the Baltics had reached an agreement in principle to stop Russian tourists from entering the EU through their countries.
The rules will be implemented at the national level by each country.
"It is important to stress that all these decisions we are taking in the coming days and weeks are national measures and, of course, they will take place in full coordination with the countries," Reinsalu explained at a press conference in Lithuania Wednesday.
On Thursday, Kallas said the European Commission agreed last week that countries bordering Russia have the right to limit entry at the national level. They are still seeking a pan-EU approach, she added.
Finland, the Baltic states and Poland have seen a big increase of Russian citizens transiting their countries since Russia lifted coronavirus travel restrictions earlier this summer. Air travel has been suspended since February.
While several countries including the Baltics and the Czech Republic have stopped issuing new visas to Russians, many other countries have not meaning they can enter can still enter the EU through their land borders.
Finland has said it may implement a similar ban in the future but is currently waiting for clarification from the EU.
Estonia has issued almost 50,000 valid visas
As of Monday, Russian nationals have 49,804 valid visas issued by Estonia, 47,998 of which are short-stay visas and 1,805 are long-stay visas.
The purpose of travel is tourism in 19,285 cases and in 20,389 cases it is visiting family and friends.
Other countries issue more than three million Schengen visas a year, valid for up to five years and allowing multiple entries to the Schengen area.
According to estimates, at least 10 million Russian citizens hold a valid short-stay Schengen visa.
Joint statement: "Not an outright entry ban"
A joint statement authored by Estonia, Latvia, Lithuana and Poland was released on Thursday afternoon and is republished in full below.
Countries bordering Russia are increasingly concerned about the substantial and growing influx of Russian citizens to the European Union and the Schengen area through our borders. We believe that this is becoming a serious threat to our public security and to the overall shared Schengen area.
Among the Russian citizens entering the EU/Schengen area, there are persons coming with the aim of undermining the security of our countries, insofar as three-fourths of Russian citizens support Russia's war of aggression in Ukraine. It takes tremendous resources for our border guard services to keep Europe safe and ensure the Russian citizens entering the Schengen area do not pose a threat to our common security and stability of our societies. It is also unacceptable that citizens of the aggressor-state are able to freely travel in the EU, whilst at the same time people in Ukraine are being tortured and murdered. The majority of visas have been issued to Russian citizens before Russia's full-scale aggression in Ukraine, under different geopolitical conditions and considerations. Travel to the European Union is a privilege, not a human right.
We welcome the decision to suspend the EU visa facilitation agreement with Russia as a necessary first step. However, further measures are needed both to drastically limit the number of visas issued (primarily tourist visas), and to decrease the flow of Russian citizens into the European Union and the Schengen area. At the recent Gymnich meeting in Prague, Member States acknowledged the increasingly challenging situation in those Member States bordering Russia which gives rise to taking relevant measures at the national level in order to restrict entry of Russian nationals into the European Union through their borders.
Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland have agreed on a common regional approach and hereby express their political will and firm intention to introduce national temporary measures for Russian citizens holding EU visas in order to address imminent public policy and security threats and restrict the entry into the Schengen area for the Russian citizens traveling for tourism, culture, sport and business purposes.
National temporary measures based on a common approach should enter into force in each of our countries separately, by September 19, 2022. The measures are adopted on the common grounds of protecting public policy and internal security, as well as the overall safety of our shared Schengen space. We continue to seek a common approach on the EU level and asked the European Commission to propose respective measures on visas and entry restrictions that could be implemented in a unified manner by all Member States of the European Union and Schengen Associated Countries.
We emphasize that this is not an outright entry ban and commonly agreed legitimate exceptions will remain in force for dissidents, humanitarian cases, family members, holders of residence permits, for the facilitation of freight and transportation services, diplomatic missions, Kaliningrad facilitated the transit of persons, etc. We fully uphold the need to continue to support opponents of the Putin regime and provide them with opportunities to leave Russia.
Editor: Mait Ots, Helen Wright