luxury cars of Russians in transit fill the parking lot of Helsinki airport

A quick walk through the Helsinki airport parking lot reveals dozens, if not hundreds, of high-end cars with Russian license plates, including a new Mercedes-Benz S-Class Sedan and a Porsche 911 Turbo S.

“It’s beyond me. I wish they hadn’t come until the situation with Ukraine is resolved,” Jussi Hirvonen, a motorist, told AFP after leaving the parking lot.

The European Union closed its airspace to Russian planes after Moscow invaded Ukraine, forcing Russians who wanted to travel to Europe to drive over the border or, by a detour, to fly on non-European airlines.

Since Moscow lifted Covid-related travel restrictions in July, the number of Russian travelers has grown, along with growing discontent in Europe over their arrival as war grips Ukraine.

Asked by AFP, Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto notes that Finland has become a “transit country” for Russian tourists, adding that there are “many Russian tourists at Helsinki airport at this moment”.

– Desire for a European decision –

Finland announced last week that it would limit Russian tourist visas to 10% of the current volume from September 1 due to growing dissatisfaction with Russian tourism amid the war in Ukraine.

But Russians continue to enter Finland with Schengen visas issued by other countries.

“They come here with Schengen visas issued by many different countries and continue their journey via Helsinki airport,” explains Mr Haavisto.

According to Finnish border guards, almost two-thirds of Russians crossing Finland’s eastern border use a Schengen visa issued by a country other than Finland.

“Hungary, Spain, Italy, Austria, Greece and Spain usually deliver to Russians and are among the top sending countries every year,” Mert Sasioglu, a representative, told AFP.

Schengen rules do not allow Finland to close its border to certain nationals, notes Haavisto. This type of measure can only be taken jointly within the EU.

“Given that Finland and the Baltic countries are planning to limit these visas, it would be good for the countries of the EU to make similar decisions”, adds the foreign minister.

This sentiment is shared by many Finns at the airport, such as Jussi Hirvonen: “There should be a decision from the EU to close the border”.

Finland intends to raise the issue at the next meeting of EU foreign ministers scheduled for August 30 in the Czech Republic.

– “Everyone should travel” –

After Moscow lifted Covid-related travel restrictions on July 15, the number of Russian tourists traveling to Finland has steadily increased.

For many Russian travelers, not having the right to travel to Europe would be frustrating.

“Everyone should be able to travel,” says Pavel Alekhin, a Russian professional athlete on his way to a bike festival in Basel.

For Russian tourist Vadim wan der Berg, the situation is “very difficult”, with many Russians no longer able to fly to work or study.

“We are all waiting for this to stop. We want the situation to return to normal all over the world, in our country and also in Ukraine.”

– A divided Europe –

The European Commission admitted last week that discussions were underway to try to adopt a “coordinated approach” to the visa issue.

Eastern European countries such as Latvia, Lithuania and Poland stopped issuing new tourist visas to Russians shortly after the war started.

Estonia is even considering no longer allowing transit to Russians with a visa issued by another EU member state.

However, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz expressed reservations about such restrictions.

“This is not the Russian people’s war, this is Putin’s war,” he said.

According to him, limiting tourist visas would also punish “all people who flee Russia because they do not agree with the Russian regime”.

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