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Haavisto: Finland will cut Russian visas by 90%

While no EU-wide decision is likely before autumn, Finland can still limit tourist visas for Russians without violating Schengen Area rules, the foreign minister said.

Foreign minister Pekka Haavisto explained the government's visa decisions outside the House of Estates in Helsinki's Kruununhaka district on Tuesday. Image: Markku Ulander / Lehtikuva

The Finnish government decided on Tuesday to significantly reduce the number of tourist visas granted to Russian citizens in light of the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Finland also supports ending the EU visa facilitation agreement with Russia.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Pekka Haavisto (Green) said that Finland will limit the number of Russian visa applications that it accepts to around 10 percent of the current level.

Haavisto said the changes will take effect at the beginning of September. The government met at the House of Estates in Helsinki on Tuesday to discuss visas for Russians. No firm decisions had been expected from the informal meeting.

Finland now accepts about 1,000 visa applications from Russians every day, but plans to only accept about 100 daily as of next month.

The Ministry for Foreign Affairs has prepared a model under which priority would be given to those applying for visas due to family reasons, work or study.

Haavisto said that his foreign ministry will team up with the Ministry of the Interior to look into providing a national humanitarian visa. This could make it easier for journalists, dissidents or activists to move to Finland, for instance. At the same time, the foreign ministry is considering legislation that would allow the introduction of national sanctions alongside those agreed at the EU level.

"These are longer-term issues, but these will be sorted out," Haavisto told reporters after the cabinet meeting.

Russian tourists' travel in Finland and through Finland to Europe has aroused indignation in Finland since coronavirus restrictions were lifted in early July. Some in Finland have questioned why wealthy Russians should be allowed to freely vacation in Europe while their country wages a brutal war of aggression in Ukraine.

To circumvent aviation sanctions imposed after the war began, many Russians drive to Helsinki Airport to catch flights to holiday destinations further away.

Finland to join Baltic neighbours on visa issue

According to Haavisto, Finland will propose a joint solution on Russian visas with the three Baltic EU countries.

Finland supports the suspension of the EU's visa facilitation agreement between Finland and Russia. Under the agreement, a tourist visa now costs 35 euros. The amount would rise to 80 euros after the termination of the contract.

According to Haavisto, the issue will be raised at the EU foreign ministers' meeting at the end of August.

In Haavisto's opinion, a joint EU stance position on the issue would be most important now. Finland cannot prevent the transit of Russians entering the country with visas from other Schengen countries. The Schengen Area includes 22 EU states plus four other European countries.

Greece, Italy and Spain – which rely heavily on tourism – now issue the largest numbers of visas to Russians, Haavisto said.

"If you want to further limit the flow of tourists, it would be good to agree on it together," he added.

PM: Finland alone cannot prevent Russian travel

As she arrived at the House of Estates on Tuesday morning, Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) said that Finnish measures alone cannot prevent Russians from travelling to Europe. In her opinion, a common approach would be the most effective way.

Most of the rest of Europe has taken a more moderate line. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Monday in Oslo that tourists are not to blame for "Putin's war".

Marin said that visas will also be discussed when security and foreign policy ministers meet with President Sauli Niinistö. Under Finnish law, the president oversees non-EU foreign policy in consultation with the cabinet.