The number of European tourists applying for visas to Russia has increased by over 50% in comparison to last year, despite ongoing tensions between Moscow and Brussels over the conflict in Ukraine and the sanctions imposed on Russia. Alexei Klimov, the head of the consular department of the Russian Foreign Ministry, revealed this information to RIA Novosti on Sunday.
According to Klimov, from January 1 to September 30, 2023, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a total of 225,000 visas to European citizens, including 141,000 tourist visas. This represents a significant jump of 57% in comparison to the same period in 2022. Klimov specifically highlighted a surge in visa applications from the Baltic states, with the number of visas issued to Lithuanians increasing by 75% and more than tripling for Estonians in August and September, compared to the previous two months.
However, it should be noted that the total number of Russian visas issued to Europeans, including diplomatic, work, student, and other types of visas, decreased by 10% in the first nine months of this year. Furthermore, the figures are still far behind the numbers registered before the conflict in Ukraine. For instance, in the first nine months of 2019, Russia issued 1.6 million visas to EU citizens, including 1.1 million tourist visas.
Klimov emphasized that Russia remains open and hospitable to European travelers. Nevertheless, he highlighted the difficulties faced by Russian citizens in obtaining visas and entering the EU, suggesting that the EU’s attitude toward Russian citizens is less welcoming. He added that the bloc’s actions are in stark contrast to Russia’s approach, which continues to be open to European tourists.
In September 2022, the EU, along with Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland, unilaterally suspended the Visa Facilitation Agreements (VFA) with Russia. These agreements had been in place for over 15 years and simplified the visa application process for Russian citizens. As a result of the suspension, Russians are now required to pay €80 for a Schengen visa instead of the previous €35. They are also required to submit a full list of documents, as opposed to the simplified list included in the VFAs, and experience longer waiting times for visa decisions.
Klimov criticized these actions by the EU, describing them as hostile and discriminatory. He claimed that such actions significantly undermine the humanitarian aspect of international relations, which should be based on the principle of reciprocity. Despite the challenges faced by Russian citizens in obtaining visas, Russia continues to partially adhere to the provisions of the agreements.
Overall, the increase in European tourists applying for visas to Russia suggests that despite the strained relations between Russia and the EU, tourists remain interested in visiting the country. However, the decrease in overall visa issuance and the difficulties faced by Russian citizens in obtaining EU visas highlight ongoing challenges in the relationship between Russia and the EU.