Since September, the Russian traveler has found it more difficult to enter the union. Russia's unjustified invasion of Ukraine continues to deliver a cascade of consequences that were unthinkable just over a year ago. The latest of these has been the curtailment of the European Union's (EU) Visa Facilitation Agreement for Russian citizens. This program, which is part of the EU's border policy, had entered into force on June 1, 2007 and was intended to facilitate the issuance of short-stay visas —no more than 90 days per 180 day period.
As of the beginning of this September 2022, the Visa Facilitation Agreement has, at least for now, been consigned to the dustbin of history. The first step was taken on February 25, when the EU adopted new restrictive measures against Russia, including a partial suspension of this agreement for Russian diplomats, officials and businessmen. The almost definitive blow came at the meeting of August 31, when the EU foreign ministers agreed to extend the total suspension to all Russian citizens; a measure that came into force on September 12.
Thus, although Spain will continue to issue short-stay visas (type C), Russian travelers who wish to avail themselves of them will have to pay an application fee of 80 euros —as opposed to 35 before the war—, will have to submit additional documentary evidence, will see processing times increase and will be obliged to comply with more restrictive rules for the issuance of multiple-entry visas. Those who will not be affected by this measure will be long-stay or residence visas and their applications, which will maintain pre-war legislation.
The unjustified invasion of Ukraine and its consequences
This cut in the rights of Russian citizens to travel to the European Union should be understood as one more step in the EU's sanctions against Vladimir Putin's government. Since the conflict blew up on February 24, 2022, with the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Army, the countries of the Western bloc have endeavored to punish Russia by different means. By sending arms, by international pressure, by unconditional support to the government of Volodymir Zelensky, but, above all, by economic sanctions.
Sanctions against Russia by the EU had already started in 2014, coinciding with the Russian annexation of Crimea and the breakdown of the Minsk Agreements. However, they have increased in intensity enormously in this 2022.
Tal y como se explica en la página web del Consejo Europeo, “las sanciones comprenden medidas restrictivas selectivas (sanciones individuales), sanciones económicas y medidas diplomáticas”, y su objetivo es “ocasionar graves consecuencias a Rusia por sus actos y frustrar con eficacia sus capacidades de continuar la agresión”. Y no solo a Rusia, porque Bielorrusia, su aliado en este conflicto con Ucrania, también las está sufriendo.
As explained on the European Council's website, "the sanctions comprise targeted restrictive measures (individual sanctions), economic sanctions and diplomatic measures", and are intended to "to inflict serious consequences on Russia for its actions and effectively frustrate its ability to continue the aggression". And not only Russia, because Belarus, its ally in this conflict with Ukraine, is also suffering them.
The EU and Russia's external border policy
The scope of these sanctions excludes certain areas and industries - food and fertilizer, for example - but does cover tourism and visa facilitation, as evidenced by the cutback in the Facilitation Agreement.
As is often the case in the European Union, this initiative was not without dissension and discussion. On the one hand, there were the countries closest to Russia, which were in favor of a total closure of the border with the neighboring country. Within this group, Finland's Foreign Minister, Pekka Haavisto, stood out, stating that "tourism should not continue as usual". According to some statistics, thousands of Russian citizens crossed the border into Finland to take flights from there to other parts of the European continent.
In contrast, states such as Germany and France, the two most powerful economies in the EU, were against such a total restriction. Aligned with the positions of the Franco-German axis, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell explained that it was necessary to be "more selective", as the union does not want to separate itself "from those Russians who are against the war in Ukraine".
Be that as it may, it seems that the sanctions will go on for a long time if there is no change of power in Russia. And that they will be part of a new EU border policy, which will debut in 2023 with the emergence of ETIAS.
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