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EU tightens visa rules for Russians but is divided on travel bans

EU tightens visa rules for Russians but is divided on travel bans

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  • EU foreign and defense ministers meet in Prague
  • EU countries split over Russian tourist visa ban
  • Suspension of the visa facilitation plan is likely to be a compromise
  • Kremlin says talk of visa ban ‘illogical’
  • The European Union is preparing a joint training mission for the Ukrainian forces

PRAGUE (Reuters) – European Union foreign ministers are likely to agree to suspend a visa facilitation deal with Moscow and make Russians wait longer and pay more for their visas, diplomats said on Tuesday, while the bloc remains divided over the EU. travel ban.

Germany and France warned that it would be futile to ban ordinary Russian citizens, a move called by Kyiv in response to the Russian invasion and backed by some EU members, and the suspension of the agreement was a compromise that could be reached at the two-day ministers meeting. meeting in Prague.

“The suspension of the facilitation agreement is almost certain,” a senior EU diplomat said.

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German Foreign Minister Annalena Barbock argued in favor of not going any further. “It is necessary not to punish opponents who are trying to leave Russia,” she said.

France and Germany said in their joint memorandum: “We caution against far-reaching restrictions on our visa policy, in order to prevent feeding the Russian narrative and unleashing an unintended mobilization around the effects of the flag and/or alienation of future generations.”

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba quickly dismissed the argument that traveling to the West might change the minds of Russians, saying that Moscow had fought a short war with Georgia and annexed Crimea since it secured easier visas to the European Union in 2007.

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“Travel to the European Union has not had any transformative effect on Russia,” he said. “To transform Russia, shut the door in the face of Russian tourists.”

Regional ban?

Eastern and Northern European countries are strongly supportive of banning tourist visas, and some have said they could go for a regional visa if there is no EU-wide agreement.

“If all 27 EU countries fail to reach an agreement, a regional solution may be sought for the countries most affected by the influx of Russian tourists in the future,” said Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis.

Separately, EU defense ministers also met in Prague on Tuesday and agreed to work on the less controversial step of preparing a joint EU mission to train Ukrainian forces. Read more

“There are many training initiatives on the way, but the needs are enormous and we need to ensure the coherence of these efforts,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin criticized the talk of banning tourist visas as “illogical”.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described the calls to ban visas as an example of the West’s “anti-Russian agenda,” and said: “Step by step, unfortunately, both Brussels and individual European capitals show an absolute lack of mind.”

Finland, which has a long land border with Russia and says it does not want to become a hub for Russian tourists entering the European Union, has sharply reduced the number of visas it grants them.

Earlier this month, Estonia closed its borders to more than 50,000 Russians with previous visas, the first country in the European Union to do so.

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(Additional reporting by Sabine Siebold, Jan Lopatka, Andrios Setas, Anne Kuranen, Ingrid Melander, Bart Meijer, Jason Hovet, Robert Mueller, Alexander Ratz); Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Gabriela Baczynska and Tomas Janowski

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