Narva border crossing remains calm ahead of Russian tourist visa ban

Border crossing point in Narva.
Border crossing point in Narva. Source: Anna Pavlenko/Raadio4

From Monday, September 19, entry restrictions for Russian citizens with tourist visas for the Schengen area, will be in place in the Baltic states and Poland. At the Narva border crossing point, the situation appears calm and the number of crossings is already down in comparison to the summer.

According to the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, since the start of the war in Ukraine, Estonia has become the second most frequent point of entry to the EU for Russian citizens.

Since the suspension of air traffic between Russia and the European Union at the end of February, almost 300,000 Russian citizens have crossed the Narva bridge from Russia into Estonia. From Narva, many go on to Italy, France and other destinations in the Schengen area, while some have also spent their vacation time in Estonia. However, from Monday, September 19, this route into the EU will also be closed to Russian tourists.

The newly introduced restrictions will have the biggest impact on Russian tourists, but they will also affect Russian citizens who own apartments or dachas (summer cottages) in Estonia. However, the majority of Russian citizens entering Estonia via the Narva border crossing are locals with Estonian residence permits, who are visiting relatives or are on business trips. Approximately one quarter of those making the crossing from Russia into Narva are EU citizens.

According to Marek Liiva, director of the border checkpoint in Narva, the number of border crossings so far in September has been rather low. "The number of border crossings is already down compared to the summer period," said Liiva.

"Certainly, the sanctions that are already in place are the biggest reason (for the low number of crossings), but it is also because it is the start of the fall, the end of the school holidays, and so on. We don't see any major storm of the kind where (high numbers of) people are trying to take advantage of the opportunity to cross at the last moment. For the time being, it's business as usual," said Liiva.

At present, just under 4,000 people cross the border from Russia into Narva every day, a number three times smaller than before the coronavirus pandemic and the start of Russia's war in Ukraine. Prior to the new restrictions, between 10 and 20 people had been sent back to Russia from the Narva border per day. However, whether that number increases remains to be seen.

"From our point of view at the border, we don't expect to send many more people back, but we are of course prepared for the number of people we return per day to increase slightly. The border crossings will definitely drop a bit, but I can't predict by how much at the moment, let's see what life brings," Liiva said.

Russian tourists arriving in Narva used to be eager to discuss their travel plans (with journalists at the border). However, now they are more reluctant to do so. Who knows what people in the EU or at home might think of things they say if they are interviewed. However, they do generally appear to be concerned about the restrictions to come.

Aleksandr, who is from St Petersburg, said, that he was very disappointed that he could no longer travel into the EU via Estonia. "We are going to Italy for a vacation. Just for tourism. We don't know where we will take a vacation after that, it's not clear yet. Travel will become more complicated," he said.

On the surface, the situation at the Narva border crossing appears calm, traffic is light and there are no queues. However, border guards say, this does not reflect the intense work they are required to carry out, with the need to conduct thorough checks on all those entering Estonia.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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