Germany and France argue that the move would only alienate people from the West, according to a memo
EU member states are expected to reach a deal to slow the issuing of visas to Russian nationals and to make the process more expensive, rather than introducing a full ban, Politico reported on Monday, citing an internal document.
According to a memo obtained by the outlet, ahead of informal talks of EU defense and foreign ministers in Prague, Germany and France argued that a visa ban would only alienate Russian people from the West, while driving a wedge between some members of the bloc.
“While limiting contacts with regime representatives and authorities to areas of vital EU interest, we need to strategically fight for the ‘hearts and minds’ of the Russian population – at least the segments not yet completely estranged from ‘the West,’” Paris and Berlin reportedly stated.
This position has apparently frustrated a number of EU states that insist on stricter measures against Russia amid the conflict in Ukraine. Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas told Politico that visa restrictions would hurt Russia, not the EU. The ban is “something that Russia is afraid of” because it affects the elite, she said.
However, the debate on visas is still far from over, with a coalition of Russia hawks reportedly intending to hold talks before the Prague meeting. According to two of Politico’s sources, the jury is still out on how aggressive their stance will be.
Germany and France spoke out against a strict approach in the memo, saying they “wish to maintain a legal framework that allows in particular students, artists, scholars, professionals – independent of whether they are at risk of prosecution on political grounds – to travel to the EU.”
On Sunday, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said a full visa ban for all Russians is unlikely to receive unanimous support in the bloc. “I think that we have to review the way that some Russians get a visa, certainly [not] the oligarchs. We have to be more selective. But I am not in favor of stopping delivering visas to all Russians,” he stated at the time.
The Financial Times reported on Sunday that EU member states plan to back a suspension of the 2007 EU-Russia visa facilitation deal, which will make the process of applying for all EU visas more complicated, expensive, and protracted. A number of countries, including Poland, the Czech Republic, Estonia, and Latvia, have already stopped issuing visas to Russian citizens.
Commenting on the visa ban proposals discussed at the EU level, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said these types of initiatives “don’t smell too good,” while expressing hope that common sense would eventually prevail.