Baltic countries close their borders to Russians because of the war in Ukraine | National Policy

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania closed their borders Monday to most Russian citizens in response to Russia’s broad domestic support for the war in Ukraine.

Under the coordinated travel ban, Russians wishing to travel to the Baltic countries and Poland as tourists or for business, sporting or cultural purposes will not be permitted even if they hold valid visas for the Schengen area without European Union control.

The prime ministers of the three Baltic states and Poland agreed earlier this month to stop admitting Russian citizens, saying the move would protect the security of European Union member countries neighboring Russia.

“Russia is an unpredictable and aggressive state. Three quarters of its citizens support the war. It is unacceptable that people who support the war can travel freely around the world, in Lithuania, in the EU,” Lithuanian Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite said on Monday.

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“Such support for hostilities can pose a threat to the security of our country and the EU as a whole,” she added.

The ban includes exceptions for humanitarian reasons, family members of EU citizens, Russian dissidents, serving diplomats, transport workers and Russians with residence permits or national long-stay visa of the 26 Schengen countries.

There were no indications of new travel restrictions on Monday for Russians seeking to enter Poland, even though the country has agreed with the Baltic states to introduce the ban by September 19. Poland, which borders the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, still imposes strict restrictions on remaining Russian travellers. in place since the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the eastern Polish city of Bialystok, a member of the Russian Association for Culture and Education in Poland said a new ban would have hit much harder if pandemic restrictions hadn’t not already largely restricted travel and exchange contacts with Russia.

“After more than two years of restrictions, we see no prospect of improvement, and that’s the worst part,” Andrzej Romanczuk, a Polish citizen, told The Associated Press.

The Lithuanian Interior Ministry said 11 Russian citizens were barred from entering the country from midnight. Most were trying to enter overland from Kaliningrad or from Belarus. No incidents were reported.

Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu said last week in an interview with Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat that Russian travel poses security problems because “we know that Russian spies used fake IDs and carried out various activities in Europe using tourist visas”.

He also cited allegations that Ukrainian refugees in Europe were forced to serve wealthy Russian customers in spas and other establishments.

“I think it’s a perverse situation,” Reinsalu said.

Estonia, a country of about 1.3 million people, has recorded hundreds of thousands of border crossings by Russian citizens since the start of Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Countries cannot, however, prevent Russian citizens from entering via another Schengen nation. They want similar measures to be taken by the 27 EU member states, but this has not yet been agreed, although some travel restrictions – on flights from Russia to the EU – have already been introduced . The new ban mainly concerns land travel.

The Czech Republic, which does not share a border with Russia, was one of the first EU countries to no longer issue visas to Russian citizens. The government in Prague approved the measure the day after the invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

The three Baltic states were once republics of the Soviet Union, while Poland and Czechia – then part of Czechoslovakia – were satellites of Moscow. This and previous history make them particularly susceptible to aggressive Moscow policies.

AP writers Liudas Dapkus in Vilnius, Lithuania, Jari Tanner in Tallinn, Estonia, and Karel Janicek in Prague contributed.

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