Finland to slash Russian visas amid rush of Europe-bound tourists

In July, Finland issued just 16,000 visas to Russians. Photo: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

From September 1, Finland will slash the number of visas issued to Russians, the Finnish foreign ministry said in a statement on Tuesday, amid a rush of Russian tourists bound for Europe.

Ever since Western countries closed their airspace to Russian planes in response to Moscow’s aggression on Ukraine, the Finnish land border crossings have remained among the few entry points into Europe for Russians.

Seeing how Russian tourists began turning the Helsinki-Vantaa airport into their gateway to European holiday destinations, the Finnish government agreed on Tuesday to curtail their numbers. The traffic increased following Russia's lifting of pandemic-related border restrictions a month ago.

“And this maybe is not very appropriate if we, for example, think of the airspace restrictions put in place for Russia,” Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto told reporters after government talks.

The number of daily visa application appointments organised by the Finnish diplomatic posts in Russia would be reduced from 1,000 to 500 per day with just 100 allocated to tourists, Finland’s MFA said.

As reported by Reuters, the number of Finnish visas granted was already much lower than before the pandemic and the war. In July, Finland issued just 16,000 visas to Russians, compared with 92,100 during the same month in 2019, the MFA statistics showed.

FM Haavisto said that Finland and the Baltic states would also propose that the EU discontinued a visa facilitation agreement with Russia that made it easier for Russians to travel to and within the bloc.

While some EU leaders, such as Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin and her Estonian counterpart Kaja Kallas, have called for an EU-wide visa ban, Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz contested the idea on Monday, arguing that Russians should be able to flee their home country if they disagree with the government.

To tackle the issue, Finland was considering creating a national humanitarian visa that could be granted to Russians that needed to leave Russia or visit Europe for purposes such as journalism or advocacy, as put by FM Haavisto.

In line with EU regulations, a tourist must apply for a visa from the country they intend to visit but can enter the border-check-free Schengen area from any point and travel around it for up to 90 days in a 180-day period.

But the Finnish move may cause a knee-jerk reaction in Russia. An article by Oleg Morozov, a Russian member of parliament, is an example of such ideas already brewing in Moscow. In the piece published by the RIA Novosti news agency, MP Morozov called on Moscow to discontinue allowing Finns to travel to the country except for things such as medical treatment or attending funerals. Russia could manage without “cross-border trips by Finns to buy petrol,” he quipped.