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Niinistö: Decision to further restrict Russian arrivals "not difficult"

Speaking in Washington, the president said that restrictions imposed on Russian visitors by the Baltic states have not resulted in a dramatic drop in the number of arrivals.

President Sauli Niinistö spoke to reporters in New York on Wednesday. Image: Daniel Olin / Yle

In an interview with Yle at the Finnish Embassy in Washington late Friday Finnish time, President Sauli Niinistö commented on the ratcheting up of restrictions on the entry of Russian citizens and the granting of visas.

"The purpose is to significantly reduce the number of people coming to Finland from Russia," explained Niinistö, who is due to return home on Sunday from a week-long trip to the United States.

Earlier on Friday, the president met remotely with the Ministerial Committee on Foreign and Security Policy (Utva). Together they agreed that Finland will significantly reduce the entry of Russians and the issuance of visas.

"As far as I understand, this 'significantly reduce' means that all those who do not have a special reason, such as a family reason, would be rejected," Niinistö said.

The president said that the decision was "not difficult".

Niinistö said that the government would provide more details about the decision, and that he expects the cabinet will act quickly on the matter.

Haavisto: Preparations may still take a few days

Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto (Green), who held his own press conference in New York on Friday, said the policy would be "very strict".

Haavisto said that there was already a draft decision, but that technical and legal preparations could still take several days.

The foreign minister said that practically all tourist traffic to Finland will be blocked.

Utva declared that restrictions on Russians are needed "in order to prevent serious damage to Finland’s international position".

"A situation was forming here where Finland was becoming the only land route allowing Russians to go to countries where their entry has been [otherwise] blocked," Niinistö said.

Niinistö said that restrictions imposed on Russian visitors by the three Baltic EU countries, for example, have been strict, but have not resulted in a dramatic drop in the number of people transiting through them. Russians are still allowed in for "family reasons and other acceptable reasons," he noted.

90% of Russian arrivals still allowed into Estonia

On Monday, Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania began turning away Russian tourists. However their entry bans excludes Russian dissidents seeking refuge, refugees, lorry drivers, permanent residents of EU countries as well as people visiting family members.

Estonia officials said that the "ban" would affect less than a tenth of some 4,000 Russians who enter from Russia daily.

Earlier this week, Finland asked the European Commission to recommend that all Schengen countries impose entry bans and annul or revoke visas for Russian nationals. It said that member states should block the entry of any Russian whose visa has been revoked or entry banned by any other Schengen member states.

"This will prevent the same persons from trying to enter the Schengen area at some other land border or airport," the government said in a letter to the EU executive.

The EU has banned all flights from Russia, leaving only rail and road transport links available, and this month it agreed to limit issuing free travel Schengen zone visas.

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