Russian tourists have become known for their bravery in traveling to more extreme jurisdictions, but a recent development in Western Europe may prove to be a challenge for even the most adventurous of travelers. The European Commission’s clarifications on the import of sanctioned goods by Russian citizens has caused quite a stir in Russia, with concerns that crossing the border into an EU country may result in more than just the confiscation of their car. The list of potentially confiscated items includes mobile phones, cameras, toilet paper, precious metal products, cigarettes, cosmetics, soap, suitcases, bags, and even women’s clothing and other personal items.
These measures are part of the EU’s sanctions policy against Russia in response to the conflict in Ukraine. Brussels has banned the import of a wide range of Russian goods, including items for personal use. There were first signs of such items being confiscated in July 2023 when German customs detained the cars of Russian citizens. The European Commission subsequently clarified that the import of sanctioned goods is prohibited, even for personal use.
If this interpretation is applied strictly, it could lead to some absurd situations. The EU’s policy towards Russia includes various embargoes, such as financial sanctions, sectoral restrictions, transport and visa bans, export controls, and bans on imports of certain goods. The goal of these measures is to deprive Moscow of revenue from the sale of these items on EU markets. Strategic raw materials like oil, coal, gold, and others are among the prohibited goods.
The issue arises when Russian citizens attempt to enter the EU with certain items for personal use, such as private cars. German customs clarified in July that a private vehicle entering Germany is subject to seizure. The interpretation of Article 3i of EU Council Regulation 833/2014 does not provide an exemption for goods for personal use for Russian citizens, unlike EU citizens and their family members. However, common sense prevailed in the case of Ivan Koval, whose Audi Q3 was returned to him after the German public prosecutor closed the investigation. But the EC upheld the German customs measure, stating that Article 3i makes no distinction between cars for sale and cars for personal use.
This clarification has wider implications, potentially affecting other goods from Annex XXI of Regulation 833/2014. In theory, customs officers now have the power to confiscate any item listed in Annex XXI, even to the point of literally stripping Russians naked. The practical implementation of these measures varies from country to country, with some customs officers being overzealous and others less so. However, it is difficult for Russian citizens to predict how they will be treated at the border, and challenging a customs decision in court can be a lengthy and expensive process.
These measures not only create inconvenience for Russian tourists but also strain people-to-people relations between Russia and the EU. Previous issues, such as stricter visa regimes, financial deposit bans, and freezing of Russian accounts, have already caused tensions. If the practice of confiscating belongings becomes widespread, it could further deteriorate relations between the two parties.
In conclusion, Russian tourists may be brave in their travels to more extreme jurisdictions, but walking around Western Europe naked due to the confiscation of personal belongings may be a bridge too far. The enforcement of EU law varies, and the practical implementation of these measures will reveal the limits of absurdity.