By HARRIET MORRIS – Associated Press
TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Estonia’s foreign minister on Thursday defended his country’s decision to ban Russian tourists, saying they were shirking their “moral responsibility” to stand up to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime. and its “genocidal war” in Ukraine.
The tiny Baltic country, which shares a 300-kilometre (190-mile) border with Russia, stopped issuing tourist visas to Russians months ago and, as of Thursday, no longer accepts previously issued ones.
“Our idea is to give a signal to all our European partners, to all our partners in the Western community, to close our borders to Russian citizens, except in humanitarian cases,” Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu told The Associated Press. in an interview in Tallinn. “Russian citizens are not welcome in Europe. Their country is waging a genocidal war against an innocent people.
Despite Russia’s ban on air travel to the European Union, Russians have been able to vacation in Western Europe this summer by traveling overland through Estonia and other neighboring countries on tourist visas valid in the entire borderless travel zone of Europe.
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Reinsalu said “hundreds of thousands” of Russian citizens crossing Estonian soil posed a “clear security threat” and dismissed concerns that the visa ban could backfire on Europe and the West.
He said the legal responsibility for the war in Ukraine lies with Putin and those around him, “but there is also a moral responsibility of Russian citizens as citizens of (the) aggressor state.”
“They must wake up and protest against the atrocities of the regime. Their tax money is literally used to buy rockets and bombs to kill children in Ukraine,” he said.
Exceptions to the entry ban include diplomats and Russians visiting close relatives in Estonia. This does not affect Russians with visas issued by other EU countries or those allowed to enter Estonia for humanitarian reasons, but Estonian officials have said they are working on proposals to also ban Russian tourist visas issued by other EU countries.
Estonia, Finland and other EU countries bordering Russia have pushed for an EU-wide ban on Russian tourists, but some leaders, including German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, have rejected the idea as counter-productive.
“This is not the Russian people’s war. This is Putin’s war and we have to be very clear about this,” Scholz said.
A Russian Foreign Ministry official said on Thursday that Moscow was not ruling out the possibility of an EU-wide ban and would respond in any case.
“These measures will not go unanswered from the Russian side. You will soon know about (retaliatory measures),” Ivan Nechaev, deputy head of the ministry’s communications department, told reporters.
Reinsalu mocked fears that the “peaceful life” of Russians could be disrupted by denying them the chance to visit tourist attractions like the Louvre Museum in Paris, the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin or the canals of Venice.
“I think there is no peaceful life in Ukraine, and our perspective is to end the genocidal war – that is a strategic goal,” he said.
Estonia and its Baltic neighbors Latvia and Lithuania have endured five decades of Soviet occupation and have been staunch supporters within the EU of tough sanctions on Russia and robust military aid to the EU. Ukraine.
Reinsalu also defended the government’s decision to dismantle remaining Soviet-era monuments, including a tank removed this week from a memorial to Red Army soldiers killed in World War II from the eastern town of Narva, at the Russian border. The government has said such monuments could be used by the Kremlin to sow divisions in Estonia, which has a large ethnic Russian minority.
“The one thing we have learned from the past (is) to act decisively and not let tensions rise,” Reinsalu said.
Associated Press writer Karl Ritter in Stockholm contributed to this report.
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