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EU to toughen visa rules for Russians but divided on travel ban

EU to toughen visa rules for Russians but divided on travel ban

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  • EU foreign and defense ministers meet in Prague
  • EU states divided over Russian tourist visa ban
  • The suspension of the visa facilitation program is probably in jeopardy
  • For the Kremlin, talk of visa ban is “irrational”
  • EU prepares joint training mission for Ukrainian troops

PRAGUE, Aug 30 (Reuters) – European Union foreign ministers are expected to agree to suspend a visa facilitation deal with Moscow and make Russians wait longer and pay more for their visas, officials said on Tuesday. diplomats, as the bloc remained divided on an outright EU. travel ban.

Germany and France have warned it would be counterproductive to ban ordinary Russians, a move advocated by Kyiv in response to the Russian invasion and backed by some EU members, and suspending the agreement was a compromise that could be reached during the two days of ministers. meeting in Prague.

“The suspension of the facilitation agreement is almost certain,” said a senior European Union diplomat.

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German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock pleaded in favor of not going any further. “It is crucial not to punish dissidents who try to leave Russia,” she said.

In their joint note, France and Germany said: “We caution against far-reaching restrictions on our visa policy, in order to avoid fueling the Russian narrative and triggering unintended rallying around the effects of a flag and/or alienating future generations”.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba was quick to reject the argument that traveling to the West could change Russians’ minds, saying Moscow had fought a brief war with Georgia and annexed Crimea since it had obtained easier visas for the EU in 2007.

“Travel to the EU had no transformative effect on Russia,” he said. “To transform Russia, close the door to Russian tourists.”

REGIONAL BAN?

Eastern and Nordic countries strongly support a tourist visa ban and some have said they could opt for a regional visa if there is no agreement at EU level.

“If the 27 EU countries fail to reach an agreement, a regional solution for the countries most affected by the flow of Russian tourists could be sought in the future,” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius said. Landsbergis.

Separately, EU defense ministers also met in Prague on Tuesday and agreed to work on the least controversial step in preparing for a joint EU mission to train Ukrainian troops. Read more

“Many training initiatives are underway, but the needs are huge and we need to ensure consistency in these efforts,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin has called the ban on tourist visas “irrational”.

Describing calls for a visa ban as an example of the West’s “anti-Russian agenda”, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “Step by step, unfortunately, Brussels and capitals individual Europeans show an absolute lack of reason”.

Finland, which has a long land border with Russia and says it does not want to become a hub for Russian tourists entering the EU, has sharply reduced the number of visas it grants them.

Earlier this month, Estonia closed its border to more than 50,000 Russians with previously issued visas, the first EU country to do so.

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Reporting by Sabine Siebold, Jan Lopatka, Andrius Sytas, Anne Kauranen, Ingrid Melander, Bart Meijer, Jason Hovet, Robert Muller and Alexander Ratz; Written by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Gabriela Baczynska and Tomasz Janowski

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