This June, Estonia issued 322 visas Russian citizens. According to Estonian Minister of the Interior Lauri Läänemets (SDE), who was responding to questions posed by Isamaa party chair Urmas Reinsalu, in the first six months of 2023, there were 198,906 recorded entries by citizens of the Russian Federation into Estonia.
"In June of this year, Estonia issued 246 short-term visas and 76 long-term visas to citizens of the Russian Federation. A total of 322 visas were issued to citizens of the Russian Federation in June. By comparison, in June 2019, Estonian issued 11,580 visas to Russian citizens, of which 11,415 were short-term visas and 165 were long-term visas," Läänemets wrote.
Läänemets said, that between the beginning of this year and the end of June, there have been 198,906 recorded instances of Russian Federation citizens entering Estonia via its external borders. During the same period, there have been 205,253 cases recorded of Russian citizens leaving Estonia.
30,000 Russian citizens had valid visas on July 1
Läänemets added that, by July 1, Estonia had issued 29,271 valid visas to citizens of the Russian Federation. "Of these, 28,866 were short-term visas and 405 were long-term visas," he said.
However, the minister emphasized that simply having a valid visa does not automatically mean that these people stay in, or even enter, Estonia. "Citizens of the Russian Federation may have a valid visa, however, due to the imposed sanctions, this does not necessarily give them the right to enter Estonia," Läänemets said.
By way of comparison, he added, that in January 1, 2022, 77,569 citizens of the Russian Federation had long-term Estonian residence permits, 9,571 had temporary residence permits, 133 had a temporary right of residence, and 81 had permanent right of residence. "
"At the beginning of 2022, there were a total of 87,354 citizens of the Russian Federation, who had been issued an Estonian residence permit or who were in Estonia based on having the right of residence," Läänemets wrote.
Estonia has sent back more than 1,000 Russian citizens from the border this year
Reinsalu asked Läänemets whether, in light of the current security situation, he considers it appropriate to stop issuing visas to Russian citizens altogether.
Läänemets wrote that entry for Russian Federation citizens to Estonia has been extensively restricted, with laws created in a way that prevents them from visiting the country for tourism or business purposes. Nor, he said, are visas being issued for Russian citizens to participate in cultural events or sports competitions in Estonia.
According to Läänemets, citizens of the Russian Federation can apply for a visa if they wish to visit a relative, spouse, or someone with whom they are raising a child, who is an Estonian citizen or a long-term resident of Estonia.
"Employees of diplomatic missions or consular posts in Estonia, and their family members can also apply for a visa. In addition, there are those people involved in the international transportation of goods and passengers, who have the right of free movement under European Union law or for humanitarian reasons. These people have the theoretical possibility of applying for a visa, but in each individual case the specific threat to Estonia's security has to be assessed before a visa is issued. The final decision on whether or not to admit a person to the country will be taken during the border control process," explained Läänemets.
"This year, for example, more than 1,000 citizens of the Russian Federation have been sent back from the external border," said Läänemets.
Läänemets: Completely stopping visas for Russian citizens neither possible nor practical
Läänemets added that the rights of certain individuals largely derive either from the Constitution of the Republic of Estonia or from European Union law. Examples include the inviolability of family and private life, in connection with which, according to the constitution, Estonian citizens and foreign citizens who are staying in Estonia must be treated equally.
Läänemets pointed out, that in the current situation it is not possible and probably not practical, to completely stop issuing visas to Russian citizens
Reinsalu also asked Läänemets about Estonia's eastern border infrastructure. "The temporary barriers placed on Estonia's eastern border in 2021 have been at least partially removed. How many kilometers of barriers have been removed, how soon could these barriers be restored and do you think it is practical?" Reinsalu asked.
"In the fall of 2021, around 40 kilometers of temporary barriers were installed on the eastern border as part of an additional training exercise. As the construction of the border infrastructure in 2022 brought us as far as a section of the border where temporary barriers had been installed, the temporary barriers were removed from about six kilometers of that section in cooperation with the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF). During the construction of the eastern border infrastructure, a permanent fence will be built along this section, which will be equipped with all the necessary surveillance equipment. The temporary barriers have not been removed from other sections of the border," Läänemets wrote in response.
Editor: Michael Cole