Baltic countries close borders with Russians over Ukraine war

Warsaw, Poland — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania closed their borders to most Russian citizens on Monday in response to widespread domestic support for the war in Russia Ukraine,

Under the coordinated travel ban, Russians wishing to travel to the Baltic countries or Poland as tourists or for business, sporting or cultural purposes will not be allowed, even if they have valid access to the EU’s check-free Schengen area. Have a visa

The prime ministers of the three Baltic countries and Poland agreed earlier this month to stop accepting Russian nationals, saying the move would protect the security of neighboring EU countries Russia.

“Russia is an unpredictable and aggressive state. Three-quarters of it supports civil war. It is unacceptable that people who support war can freely travel around the world to Lithuania, the European Union,” Lithuanian Interior Minister Agne Bilotite said on Monday.

“Such support for hostilities could threaten the security of our country and the European Union,” she said.

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

There were no signs of new travel restrictions on Monday for Russians wishing to enter Poland, even though the country agreed with the Baltic countries to impose restrictions until September 19. Poland, which borders Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave, still has tight restrictions on remaining Russian travelers. from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the eastern Polish city of Bialystok, a member of the Russian Federation of Culture and Education in Poland said a new ban would have been much tougher if pandemic restrictions had not already limited travel with Russia largely.

“After more than two years of sanctions, we see no prospects for improvement, and this is the worst part,” Polish citizen Andrzej Romanczyk told the Associated Press.

He said regions on both sides of Poland’s border with Kaliningrad would be affected economically because border traffic there drives local trade. Russians also shop in Polish cities such as Warsaw or Krakow.

Similar to the same period last year, more than 65,000 Russians have arrived in Poland this year, but 10 times smaller than before the pandemic.

The Lithuanian Interior Ministry said 11 Russian nationals were barred from entering that country since midnight. Most were trying to enter by land from Kaliningrad or Belarus. No incident was reported.

Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu told Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat that Russian travel raises security concerns because “we know that Russian spies used fake IDs and carried out various activities in Europe using tourist visas.” “

Estonia, with a population of 1.3 million, has registered hundreds of thousands of border crossings by Russian citizens since the start of Russia’s war on Ukraine.

However, the Baltic countries cannot prevent Russian citizens from entering through another Schengen nation. They want similar travel restrictions to be imposed by all 27 EU member states.

The European Union has already banned air travel from Russia after invading Ukraine. But before the ban, Russians could still travel by land to Estonia and apparently taking flights to other European destinations.

At an EU summit last month, the bloc’s 27 members were divided over whether to impose a sweeping visa ban on Russian citizens, torn between a desire to increase pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin and to punish ordinary Russians. There is concern about those who may not even support their war on Ukraine.

The European Union had already tightened visa restrictions on Russian officials and businessmen in May, but Poland and the Baltic countries have called for wider restrictions on tourists. Germany and France are pushing for tightening visa restrictions on Russians rather than outright banning them.

Czechia, which does not share a border with Russia, was one of the first EU countries to stop issuing visas to Russian citizens, approving the measure following Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine.

The three Baltic states were once republics in the Soviet Union, while Poland and Czechia – part of Czechoslovakia – were satellites of Moscow. That and the earlier history make them particularly vulnerable to Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine.

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Follow all AP stories on developments related to the war in Ukraine https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine.

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

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