HELSINKI (AP) — Finland on Thursday slashed the number of visas issued to Russian citizens to a tenth of the regular amount in a move seen as a show of solidarity with Ukraine.
Finland, which shares the longest border with Russia of all European Union member countries, announced the decision in August amid growing pressure from politicians and ordinary citizens to restrict the movement of Russian tourists through the Nordic country as Moscow continues its war in Ukraine.
“It’s important that we show that at the same time when Ukrainians are suffering, normal tourism shouldn’t continue business as usual,” Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said during a European Union foreign ministers meeting in the Czech capital Prague on Wednesday.
Starting Thursday, Finland will only permit Russians to apply for tourist visas once a week and in just four Russian cities: Moscow, St. Petersburg, Murmansk and Petrozavodsk close to the Finnish border.
Haavisto said he was particularly worried about a kind of Russian “tourist route” through Helsinki airport which has been used by thousands of Russians before Moscow’s Feb. 24 attack on Ukraine. Russians are now crossing into Finland before flying to other European nations as a way of circumventing flight bans imposed after the invasion.
On top of its visa decision, the Finnish Foreign Ministry said the government is currently exploring the possibility of helping Russian human rights defenders, civil society members and journalists critical to the Kremlin by establishing a new kind of humanitarian visa enabling them to access the Nordic country.
At this week’s Prague meeting, EU foreign ministers decided to tighten travel rules for Russians within the 27-member bloc but found no consensus to issue a full-scale tourist visa ban, something that has been urged by Poland and the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Moscow on Thursday described the EU’s decision to scrap a simplified visa regime for Russian tourists as absurd and bad news for Russian citizens. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia was considering options to respond to the move.
“It is a new ridiculous decision in a series of ongoing absurdities," Peskov said in a conference call with reporters, as quoted by news outlets.
Finland shares a 1,340-kilometer (830-mile) border with Russia and the country has regularly ranked among one of the most popular Western travel destinations or stopovers for Russian tourists.