Estonia continues to push for EU-wide Russian tourism ban

Traveler holding a Russian passport.
Traveler holding a Russian passport. Source: Alexander Nrjwolf/Unsplash

While Estonia has closed its borders to Russian tourists, not all European Union member states have done so and Estonian officials continue to push for a wider ban. Enabling countries could face consequences, officials said on Monday.

During the first six months of 2023, approximately 200,000 Russian citizens arrived in Estonia and 205,000 left. The majority had Estonian resident permits and close relatives in the country.

Estonia does not allow Russian tourists to cross the border, and neither do our neighbors, said Minister of Interior Lauri Läänemets (SDE).

"[But] If someone really does have the right to visit a relative and they go to the beach, then yes, it can happen," he said.

Russian tourists can fly to European capitals via Turkey and Georgia for vacation, although the number has dropped significantly. For example, 95 percent fewer tourists visited Paris this year. But many of those who still visit are affluent Russians which the EU's sanctions hoped to curtail.

Marko Mihkelson. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Chairman of the Riigikogu Foreign Affairs Committee Marko Mihkelson (Reform) explained why a complete Russian tourism ban has not been introduced.

"There has been a widespread perception, also among our European partners, that not all Russians or all Russian citizens are guilty of this war and should not be collectively punished," he said.

However, Mihkelson pointed out that opinion polls show high support for the war.

Many Russians arrive in Europe from Georgia and last week it was reported Tbilisi will become a travel hub with flights to Paris, Nice, and Rome. 

Mihkelson said this behavior could have consequences.

The Georgian flag flying in Tallinn. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

"It would be useful to look at the routes through which Russian citizens still enter the EU. If Georgia is expecting, for example, to become a candidate country for accession to the European Union at the end of this year, then I think it would be entirely appropriate for them to listen and to understand that this kind of action, which simply allows Russian citizens to get into the European Union, not least by evading sanctions, is not appropriate for a country that wants to become a Member State of the European Union at some point in the future," the MP said.

Andres Siplane, chief specialist of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Department of Sanctions and Strategic Goods Control, said discussions about a wider Russian tourism ban are held almost every day behind closed doors.

"We press this pedal in all directions. We are also talking to Georgia about this, and if you look at the Georgian President [Salome Zourabichvili], she understands this problem very well," said Siplane.

It is unlikely the EU will introduce a ban before the end of the summer.

On Monday, it was reported Estonia issued 322 visas to Russian citizens in June and 198,906 people crossed the border into the country.


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Editor: Mirjam Mäekivi, Helen Wright

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