Finland calls for halt to Russian tourists

Finland – Buses of Russian tourists stream into Finland at the Nuijamaa crossing in the country’s southeast, some hoping to enjoy the peaceful Finnish summer and others planning to travel further into Europe.

Finland may be seeking membership from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, but the Nordic country remains Russia’s only European Union neighbour to grant tourist visas to Russian citizens.

“I have travelled here for 12 years,” 37-year-old Boris Surovtcev from Saint Petersburg told AFP while waiting to cross. “This is a wonderful country with nature and lakes.”

After the EU shut its airspace to Russian flights, Finland has also become an important transit country for Russians looking to fly elsewhere in Europe.

But many Finns are unhappy with the situation, and the thought of Russians enjoying a Finnish summer while Ukrainians suffer under a brutal invasion has been met with indignation.

“It is not right that Russians can freely travel to Finland. It takes away the basis for the sanctions,” local Kirsi Iljin said. “I think there should be some restrictions.”

As an act of solidarity with Ukraine, Finland’s conservative opposition party proposed a halt to new tourist visas for Russians this week.

“This situation is unbearable,” Mr Jukka Kopra, a National Coalition Party MP told AFP.

“Ukraine’s citizens are being killed, including civilians, women and children, and at the same time Russians are spending holidays in the EU.”

There appears to be widespread backing for the proposal in the Finnish Parliament, with MPs across party lines voicing support for visa restrictions.

“Personally, I think restrictions should be increased,” said Mr Aki Linden from the ruling Social Democrats, acting prime minister while Ms Sanna Marin is away.

“The matter is currently (with) the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” he told AFP.

The high number of existing visas – up to 100,000 – makes the issue more complicated, Mr Linden said.

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