Russian tourists return to Europe – politics

on Germany lets “Chaika Tour” come to nothing. The Russian travel agency advertises on its website that it is worth a trip at any time of the year, “interesting, unusual, full of impressions”. For example, there is the Oktoberfest. Six million visitors come there every year. Those who book a “Blitz Tour” with “Tschaika-Tour” can already be part of it this autumn. Five days in Munich – airport transfer, city tour, parade visit included.

There are no direct flights because of the sanctions, but if you don’t mind the more complicated journey via Istanbul, Germany is also a good choice Russia half a year after the war of aggression started by Vladimir Putin, it is widely open as a holiday destination – like almost all other states in the European Union. The number of Russian travelers is rising sharply again after Russia lifted its own corona restrictions.

This caused outrage, especially in the Baltic States. How could it be that “masses of Russian tourists cross the western borders through Finland, Latvia and Lithuania and visit the Louvre during the summer holidays while children are being murdered in the Ukraine,” Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu recently asked. It is a “morally helpless situation.”

It is a situation that, however, corresponds exactly to the current decision-making situation in the EU. “The EU has partially suspended the visa facilitation agreement with Russia. The suspension is aimed at people who are close to the Russian regime. Ordinary Russian citizens are not affected for the time being,” the EU Commission said. In concrete terms, this means that Schengen visas will continue to be issued to Russian citizens.

In July alone, Germany issued Schengen visas to 5,484 Russians

However, it is also pointed out that the Member States have a great deal of leeway when issuing visas. You can reduce or stop issuing visas, for example Estonia and Latvia have done. However, there is still a large selection of EU countries from which visas can be applied for – which then apply to the entire Schengen area. That is why the Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs called on the other EU states to follow his country’s example.

Germany doesn’t do that. The German missions continue to issue Schengen visas as well as national visas, for example to take up work in Germany. In July, 5,484 German Schengen visas were issued to Russian citizens, the Foreign Office said when asked by SZ. This increases the number again. In April there were 1494, in May 1742 and in June 3351. A total of 14,237 Russians received a German Schengen visa from March to July – i.e. in the months after the start of the war. After all, that was almost twice as many as in the Corona year 2021, but only about a tenth of the number of 2019, i.e. before the pandemic.

Guidelines issued by the European Commission in May warn the consulates of the member states in Russia to “carefully examine whether applicants can be considered a threat to public order, internal security or the international relations of a member state”. Then the visa should be refused. It is difficult to assess how this will affect the issuing of visas, for example by German consulates. In principle, the Federal Foreign Office does not provide any information on rejection rates.

If tourists from Russia are drawn to the EU, which propaganda has branded as hostile, they are less likely to go to Germany anyway. Most popular is Greece, which registered 6.6 million overnight stays by Russian travelers in the pre-pandemic year 2019. Even now, when it comes to Europe, Russian travel agencies advertise – at horrendous prices – especially for trips to Greece and Spain. According to the latest available data from the Federal Statistical Office, just 8,366 people with Russian passports checked into German hotels in May.

Estonia wants to stop issuing visas to Russians

However, it is possible that the numbers will rise again significantly over the summer. In Finland in particular, many more travelers from neighboring Russia have been registered in recent weeks. Quite a few flew from Helsinki Airport – sometimes with surfboards – straight on to other EU countries.

After the attack, the EU stressed that it was “Putin’s war.” Due to the high social acceptance of the “special operation” and the ignorance of many Russians towards the suffering of the Ukrainians, this can hardly be maintained. This is one of the reasons why the Estonian Foreign Minister Reinsalu announced a new initiative during a visit to Kyiv to stop the issuing of visas to Russians across the EU.

In the Berlin traffic light coalition, little is thought of it. “One shouldn’t put Russian society under general suspicion,” said Nils Schmid, the SPD’s chairman on the foreign affairs committee. A blanket refusal of visas for Russian nationals is neither justifiable nor in “our long-term strategic interest, since political change in Russia ultimately has to be supported by civil society there”.

A general entry ban is out of the question because it would take away the opportunity for dissidents to legally turn their backs on Russia, agrees Schmid’s FDP colleague Ulrich Lechte. “Pure vacationers don’t meet my expectations given the current situation, but the advantages outweigh the disadvantages,” he says. The guiding principle is: “We don’t want to erect a new Iron Curtain in the long term.”

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