Germany will not back EU-wide visa restrictions for all Russians, Chancellor Olaf Scholz has stated, arguing that the entire Russian population should not be held responsible for what he called “Putin’s war.”
- This comes as several other of the bloc’s member states have floated an effective travel ban.
Speaking following a meeting with the leaders of the Nordic countries in Oslo on Monday, Scholz argued that “this is not the war of the Russian people.”
The German chancellor went on to describe the conflict in Ukraine as “Putin’s war” and called on his colleagues to distinguish between Russia’s population as a whole and the country’s leadership.
Scholz added that “there are a lot of people fleeing from Russia because they are disagreeing with the Russian regime,” pointing out that the EU should not make life any more difficult for these people by effectively closing the border to them.
The German leader had previously also warned that the ban would affect “innocent people” in Russia.
- In contrast, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin, who was also present at the single-day event, characterized the issue as “not a black or white question,” but rather one colored in “shades of grey.”
Finland and Denmark have previously made it clear that they want the EU to make a joint decision and restrict the issuance of Schengen visas to Russian tourists.
- Earlier this month, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto suggested that regardless of the bloc’s decision, Helsinki could soon extend processing times for Russian tourists and prioritize student, family, and worker visas.
While the EU cut all air travel from Russia shortly after the military campaign began in late February, the country’s citizens can still cross into the bloc by land, including via Finland.
Advocates of a blanket ban argue that Russian holidaymakers should not be allowed to enjoy vacations in Europe as fighting continues in Ukraine.
The three Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – have already ceased issuing visas to Russian citizens, and are among the most vocal proponents of an EU-wide ban.
- Speaking to Germany’s Deutsche Welle on Saturday, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said he thinks that no Russians, regardless of their views on the conflict, should be allowed to enter the Schengen zone.
He said that if those who oppose the Russian government remain in the country, they would be more likely to be the catalysts for political change in the future.
According to Landsbergis, even if a mere 5-10% of people in Russia oppose the country’s actions in Ukraine, that would still mean millions of disaffected people who could take the lead in establishing a “democratic Russia.”
- The only exception, in the minister’s eyes, should be made for people who apply for a Schengen visa on humanitarian grounds.
There are, however, quite a few voices within the EU that have spoken out against the proposed blanket visa ban on Russians.
- A spokeswoman for the European Commission, for instance, recently made it clear that such drastic restrictions would be unlawful and that each application should be considered individually.
Discussions on the issue are expected to take place during an informal meeting of EU foreign ministers on August 31 in Germany’s Gymnich.
Commenting on the visa ban proposals floated by some EU member states, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said last month that while Moscow hoped that common sense would prevail in the EU, the Russian leadership did not rule out “actions of an emotional nature.”