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Ukraine wants the EU to ban Russian tourists

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Ukraine is asking the European Union to stop allowing Russian citizens to travel there as tourists. As Teri Schultz reports, European governments on the border with Russia are on board and asking the rest of the EU to join the effort.

TERI SCHULTZ, BYLINE: Why should Russian citizens get to enjoy leisure travel in Europe while millions of Ukrainians have had to flee for their lives under attack from Moscow? Some European Union leaders say, they shouldn't.

GABRIELUS LANDSBERGIS: If we find a solution, in effect, Russian tourism in Europe would be stopped.

SCHULTZ: Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielus Landsbergis wants EU governments to stop issuing visas to Russians other than for humanitarian reasons, as his country has done since Russia's invasion. The other countries sharing a border with Russia or Belarus have already decided to restrict or ban the issuance of new visas to Russians. Landsbergis says an EU-wide agreement to do so, paired with heavier screening at entry points, would not only punish Russia but protect Europe from some of those he terms so-called Russian tourists.

LANDSBERGIS: They're coming in with Schengen visa. And they are, you know, participating in protests and shouting all kinds of stuff in support of Putin regime, war in Ukraine and things like that. So these type of questions could be asked on the border. This is what we're looking into. And this is - again, this is what we're going to propose for a debate on Tuesday. Like, can we ask on the border, what is your purpose? What is your stance on war, you know? Who does Crimea belong to, you know, at the very least?

SCHULTZ: But to actually stop people from travelling into the EU requires the cooperation of all other member countries. That's because a visa issued by one government allows travel throughout most of the bloc. Given that most flights from Russia are now cancelled due to sanctions, the majority of visa holders must enter by land through these border countries, such as Lithuania. The call for a crackdown has its critics. Several governments, notably Germany, say they're opposed, as is the EU's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell.

JOSEP BORRELL: (Through interpreter) Are we going to close the door to those Russians who don't want war and don't want to live under Putin's regime? It's not a good idea.

SCHULTZ: Finland says it will reduce the number of visas it issues to Russians by 90% starting this week. Antero Holmila is a history professor in Finland. He says preventing Russian travel could be counterproductive due to the Russian government's blackout of Western news. Holmila has a suggestion.

ANTERO HOLMILA: When they enter Finland, you know, rather than seeing the advertisements about the luxury goods or whatever, they see the landscape in Ukraine. And, you know, it doesn't have to be like somebody tells or kind of tries to indoctrinate them in that sense, but rather just that they see - instead of luxury goods, they see the devastation. I mean, at least that would already jolt people to kind of confront an alternative and probably very unpleasant reality for them.

SCHULTZ: But Oksana Bulda, a volunteer with the Promote Ukraine NGO in Brussels, hopes the EU does block Russian tourists.

OKSANA BULDA: The level of impact of sanctions that have been introduced recently is not sufficient. And it is not directly affecting ordinary Russians. That's why the level of support for the war in Russia is so high, which is 77%. And taking away their right to travel to Europe is something that Europe could use not only to protect itself, but also to directly affect each Russian.

SCHULTZ: That does not appear to be on the cards yet, though. For now, it seems the most likely compromise will be to suspend an agreement that made it easier for Russians to get visas. This may slow them down, but it won't stop them.

For NPR News, I'm Teri Schultz in Brussels.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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