Why Ukraine Will Not Be Satisfied with EU Decision on Visas for Russians

Wednesday, 7 September 2022 — , European Pravda

On Tuesday, the European Commission published two documents set to change visa rules for Russian travelers.

The decision in the main document that suspends the Visa Facilitation Agreement with Russia has already been fulfilled, so the "visa punishment of Russians" should start working soon.

However, Kyiv has no reason to call this decision sufficient and adequate. It will not produce the effect that Ukraine and its partners sought.

The EU decision will not affect Russian tourists who already have valid multi-entry visas issued in previous years. Their number may exceed 2 million and could include Putin sympathizers and war supporters.

And even now, Russians will retain the opportunity to obtain multiple-entry visas in certain EU countries.

Is it really about "punishment"?

The European Commission proposed two draft laws if we speak in Ukrainian terminology.

The first proposes to suspend the Visa Facilitation Agreement between the Russian Federation and the EU initiated in 2007. Sources predict that the decision will come into effect on Monday, September 12.

The second draft should prohibit the issuance of any visas at the consulates of EU states for Russian citizens who live in the territories occupied by Russia or have received passports there. However, there is an exception territory. More on that later. Approval of this draft document will take more time.

Suspending the visa facilitation agreement is a serious step. This document shaped EU-Russia relations in the past 15 years.

But it should be clear: it is not about banning visa issuance. Only the procedure and cost will change: Russian citizens will have to pay 80 euros (instead of 35 euros) for submitting an application form for a Schengen visa.

Meanwhile, other changes are not guaranteed. For example, consulates of EU countries will have the right to study documents for up to 45 days - but they will definitely not keep records of Russians for that long.

This term is up to 30 days nowadays, but in reality, it takes them a couple of days to issue visas for Russians. Also, the suspension of the agreement does not mean a mandatory change in the rules for issuing visas or the package of documents. Consulates of EU countries will continue to have the right to issue 5-year Schengen visas to Russians. Everything is left to the discretion of each individual state.

From a purely legal point of view, there are almost no changes for Russian citizens, except for the visa price of 80 euros. This is definitely not what Ukraine sought, calling on the EU to impose visa restrictions on Russian citizens, 70% of whom support a bloody war against Ukraine.

The EU could have agreed to stop issuing multiple-entry visas but did not do so.

Of course, individual EU states can tighten the rules without waiting for an agreement. The Baltic States practically stopped issuing visas a long time ago.

But Russians can simply go to more loyal consulates.

For example, Greece openly opposed the visa ban for Russians and can continue to issue long-term Schengen visas to attract Russian tourists. And with Greek 5-year visas, these tourists can enjoy quasi-visa-free travel.

Millions of Russians with the right to enter the EU

The lack of agreement on the conditions for issuing visas is not the only problem. An even more important question is what to do with already issued visas.

In recent years, the EU has issued many long-term visas in Russia for 1, 2, 3 years, and very often five years.

European Commission statistics say that in 2021, 450,000 Schengen multi-visas were issued in Russia, and the lion's share of them remain valid. In 2020, Schengen states issued 500,000 multi-visas to Russians, at least half of which are still valid. And in 2019, 3 million 350 thousand (!) Schengen multi-entry visas were issued in the Russian Federation. A significant percentage of them were for five years and are still valid.

It is impossible to calculate the exact number of valid visas (we don't have statistics for 2022), but we can assume. This number is much more than a million and will most likely reach two million.

Among the valid visa holders are ordinary Russians and authorities - both Putin's opponents and those who openly support aggression. Perhaps even those who have personally fought against Ukraine. But a border guard cannot check who of them crosses the border. Visa issued. If other general entry conditions are met, such people have the right to enjoy free travel in Europe.

Without the cancellation of these millions of visas, any EU visa sanctions are meaningless.

Currently, the EU is not ready to take this step.

However, the Baltic countries decided to act proactively: without waiting for the EU's decision, they agreed to significantly limit the entry of Russians with valid visas.

Punishment for Crimea, but not for Transnistria

And finally, the second draft of the EU decision. This document should establish a ban for all consulates from recognizing (and, above all, issuing visas) Russian passports issued in regions occupied by Russia or issued to citizens of Russia living in such occupied regions.

Adopting this decision will take time, as the European Parliament must approve it.

When approved, the visa procedure for Russians will become somewhat more complicated. EU consuls will now be required to find out where the applicant actually lives. And if a connection with Crimea or other occupied territories of Ukraine or Georgia is found, the visa will be denied.

However, they forgot to include another territory occupied by the Russians.

This is Transnistria, a region of Moldova that Russia took control over after the 1992 war, in which the 14th Army of the Russian Federation openly sided with the separatists. Transnistria still remains under the effective control of Moscow, which is confirmed by numerous decisions of the EU and international courts, such as the ECtHR.

The draft EU decision is formulated so that it does not affect citizens of Russia who reside in Transnistria. But this detail can still be changed during the hearings in the European Parliament.

At some point, the EU must understand: that after the de-occupation of Ukraine, the turn of the de-occupation of Moldova will certainly come. These two states must get rid of the Russian aggression in their progress towards EU membership. And it is necessary to prepare for this now.


Written by Sergiy Sydorenko,

"European Pravda" editor

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