The Finnish town of Lappeenranta is at a stone throw distance from the Russian border and its economy relies on daily tourism, Source: Visit Lappeenranta

Russian border tourism to EU still alive thanks to Finland loophole

Russian border tourism to EU still alive thanks to Finland loophole

Russian tourists were an important pillar of the local border-town economy, but now there is a controversy about whether visas should still be issued

Finland has taken a firm pro-stance on joining the NATO defence bloc after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. When it comes to other sanctions, such as tourism, though, it has been laxer, as it is currently the only EU country bordering Russia that still issues Schengen visas.

According to news media sources, there has been an increasing public pressure to cut that practice and follow the example of other bordering countries, such as Poland and those in the Baltics. However, for many border towns, such as Lappeenranta, in recent years the Russians have created a veritable cottage tourism and shopping industry, which has boosted the local economies. So, opinions are divided.

Solidarity versus economic pragmatism

Last month, the Russian government removed COVID restrictions on border crossings, meaning that Russian citizens holding visas can, at least, theoretically, travel by land across the border with Finland. The statistics show that the enthusiasm about such travels has been definitely muted. Before COVID, in July 2019, almost a million people crossed the Russian-Finish border, whereas in July 2022, the number was just 176 thousand.

Much in line with its policy to issue warnings, the Kremlin has threatened a “very negative reaction” to Finland if it suspended the issuing of Schengen visas, according to LRT.

Finland's main political parties support the suspension of new visas, but the Finnish government wants to wait for a joint EU decision and not act unilaterally.

Finnish opposition politician and former interior minister Kai Mykkänen told Euronews that it was necessary to send the right message to the Russian population.

"Closing the opportunity for Russians to come here can create anger directed at us, and our goal is to create anger directed at the Putin regime and the war," the politician said. However, he also emphasized that normal relations with Russia are impossible while "violations of this scale in Ukraine" are taking place.

Apparently, about 100,000 Russians hold Finnish Schengen visas allowing them continual entry to the EU, at least by land – train and air links have been cut after the start of the invasion. Hundreds of thousands of other Russians also hold Schengen visas issued by other countries, so unless the borders become completely cut off to the movement of people, some form of border tourism is likely to remain.



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