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I was surprised to learn that Estonia, Czechia, Finland, Poland, Latvia and Lithuania banned Russian citizens from entering for tourism purposes. What are the practical reasons for doing so? Or was it primarily done as a symbolic gesture of no practical meaning?

It's probably not due to fear of Russian special agents entering those countries, as it would be quite easy for an FSB agent to bypass these restrictions.

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As you can read in a related Q&A Zelensky did seemingly aks for this. So that could be one reason. Another reason discussed in answers there is that tourist visas may be seen by some as "luxury goods", so simply a way to sanction Russia[ns]. As one British (somewhat right wing) journalist put it

How much longer should Russians be able to frolic on European holidays? Estonia’s prime minister, Kaja Kallas, says “visiting Europe is a privilege, not a human right”.

And some Russians seemingly didn't think twice about Z-symbols on their vehicles, when travelling to neighboring countries.

Third, in some of those countries you've mentioned it seems the topic was becoming political football, internally, and several of those countries were going to have elections at about the same time frame.

I managed to find a poll on this, from Sep 2022. Reportedly around 70% of Finns then supported the move "to stop issuing tourist visas to Russians".


Even in countries that were less politically inclined to sanction Russia[ns] as such, like in Armenia, there were concerns that the large 2nd wave of Russians (mostly draft dodgers--arriving on whatever travel arrangements they can) would have some disturbing impact on the local socioeconomic balance, e.g. by driving up rents. A similar story plays out in Georgia:

Many Georgians direct their ire not at the Russians but rather toward their own government, which has maintained a laissez faire approach to the mass influx. The government’s policy has long been oriented toward a normalization of ties with Russia via trade and tourism. [...] Faced with such criticism, the authorities have been trying to play down the volume and the impact of the Russian arrivals. Political opposition figures, meanwhile, are doing the opposite.

According to some local polling firm, some 69% of Georgians support a re-introduction of visas for Russians.

Even The Economist which is usually pro-immigration, and ultimately argues that Russian draft dodgers should be welcomed to Europe, has commentary like

Among large European countries only Germany and France have so far indicated that they are willing to let [draft dodging] Russians in. To get there, however, most would have to cross borders with the Baltic states and Finland. These countries are a lot less keen.

They—and others—have reasonable excuses. Poland has already accommodated millions of Ukrainian refugees. Russia’s neighbours, including the tiny Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, have bitter experience of being ruled from Moscow and remain under constant threat from Mr Putin, who claims a right to “protect” ethnic Russians in neighbouring states. Estonia and Latvia have substantial Russian-speaking minorities, so adding a large influx of young Russian men understandably makes them nervous. You can see why they refuse to open their borders—though they might consider letting draft-dodgers pass through en route to the rest of the EU.

I know you're technically asking just about tourists, but the issues have certainly become intermingled since the "partial" Russian mobilization of last fall. Here's a semi-funny story relating to that point, about a Russian who ultimately went to Germany, first by crossing into Kazahstan, and even though no visa is technically needed for that step:

"The Kazakh [border] official asked with a grin where we were going. We'd made up a story beforehand: we were going to the mountains to see the snow. The border guard started laughing and we laughed too," he said. [...] Then Ilya flew to Cologne, where he applied for asylum.

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    Strangely enough, places as far as Bali are now looking to tighen their visas for Russians srnnews.com/… Mar 14, 2023 at 21:46
  • what is a Z-symbol?
    – whoisit
    Mar 15, 2023 at 7:50
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  • If I recall correctly, shortly before Finland and Estonia closed their land borders, Russian travel agencies started selling vacation packages to Spain/Greece via these countries. Hundreds of buses of not-so-wealthy travelers who later board a charter flight in, e.g., the rather small Tallinn airport, would present many problems even without any of the other reasons mentioned here.
    – aland
    Mar 15, 2023 at 16:26
  • @VladimirFГероямслава That's very unfortunate for UVA: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Z_Society Mar 15, 2023 at 16:26
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The point is to tie responsibility to privilege.

There is a disconnect in Russian society that one is not responsibile for the acts of the government. If you have no choice in who rules you, then you do not share accountability for its policies.

The EU members reject this mindset. In their mind, Russian citizens are ultimately responsible for the acts of their government, even if they do not have democratic means to select it. Every Russian who is vacationing in Europe while the war rages on in Ukraine should be protesting in Russia, and if they do not care, then Europe will force them to confront their civic responsibility by sending them back.

In short, the privilege of accessing the pleasures of democratic world is tied to the responsibility of upholding the basic principles of democratic world order.

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    +1. However, blaming the Russians for not protesting the regime is tantamount to blaming the Auschwitz concentration camp prisoners for not knocking down the guards and freeing themselves: if they all attempted it together, they would have arguably succeeded even though a few would have been shot.
    – Greendrake
    Mar 15, 2023 at 3:29
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    @Greendrake You genuinely think concentration camps are countries and their prisoners are citizens? You think that is an accurate comparison? I mean really consider your response before swiping your keyboard. Mar 15, 2023 at 3:42
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    @QuantumWalnut The comparison is not intended to be accurate but just to show the principles: 1) Protest alone and get imprisoned / tortured / killed (depending where it happens). 2) There's no way to ensure that all protest together.
    – Greendrake
    Mar 15, 2023 at 3:45
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    @Trilarion - Fleeing...you mean, like by going to another country as a tourist and then soliciting refugee status or permanent residency? That seems unlikely to work under the system that this answer lauds.
    – Obie 2.0
    Mar 15, 2023 at 7:17
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    @Obie2.0 First, I would probably have left Russia, would I have lived there, in 2014 and not only now and secondly there are still lots of ways to flee and request asylum. Does this answer really hinder people from fleeing? That's another question. Mar 15, 2023 at 8:29
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  1. Neither average Ivan neither average Natasha can afford traveling abroad.
    Traveling costs are far away from what general public can afford. Exceptions may be in Moscow and St. Petersburg (former, maybe reinstated-to-be Leningrad). Those who can afford paying the traveling costs are those quite far above the average and getting there was for some costs - they needed to prove their loyalty to the grand ruler.
    Banning the loyals will annoy the loyals. The poor ones won't be annoyed because they are not to lose any of their limited options.
  2. Russia is well-known for their intensive intelligence activities.
    Russian tourists and business visitors are quite renowned to be potential Russian spies. After last incidents the Russian embassies round Europe were quite depopulated.
    Banning potential spy income helps the home intelligence by off-loading the new suspects so they can focus on the settled ones.
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    ~5 millions Russian tourists visit Turkey every year, and ~1 million visit Egypt (numbers are not secret, everyone can google), more countries and numbers one can find e.g. in russtd.com/statistics-of-russian-outbound-tourism-for-2018.html. Visiting Poland, Czechia, Baltic countries was even more affordable - weekend in 3* hotel or AirBNB apartments and low-coster flight (or even a bus) were cheaper than a week or two in Turkey. Average Ivan & Natasha definitely can afford this, especially when they do not have children yet.
    – Victor
    Mar 15, 2023 at 15:55
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    getting there was for some costs - they needed to prove their loyalty to the grand ruler => this is nonsense, many middle and upper class people made their money without having any government connections. It’s not North Korea we’re talking about here. Mar 15, 2023 at 16:35
  • @JonathanReez There’s a difference between having government connections, and actively avoiding being viewed as a threat by the government. Most upper class Russians have made an active effort to not antagonize the regime, even if they have no connections to it. Mar 15, 2023 at 17:21
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    @AustinHemmelgarn this applies to citizens of every authoritarian regime out there, not just Russia. 99% of people are not willing to risk going to jail in order to depose the current regime. It's silly to single out Russians and not ban (say) Chinese, Iranian, Saudi, Venezuelan, or Ethiopian citizens. Sorry but "must be willing to die in jail to fight against the regime" is a ridiculous standard. Navalny is currently doing it but he's exceptionally brave. Mar 15, 2023 at 18:27
  • @Victor - The problem that you are running into there is twofold. First, if we take all the data from that page as representing one trip per person, we already are looking at only about a third of the population traveling, or less than half, so the argument that the average person does not travel abroad is already defensible. Second, and far more important, there is a serious risk of multiple counting there, because that represents the number of trips, and many people take multiple trips, particularly in cases of commuting near borders and so forth.
    – Obie 2.0
    Mar 15, 2023 at 21:56

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