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EU urges stricter border control as Russians flee the war

The EU is encouraging member states to beef up border staff and tighten security checks for Russians fleeing the draft for the war in Ukraine.

European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson issued the urging on Friday, saying countries should assess whether to let in Russians trying to enter Europe on a “case-by-case” basis.

“A stricter approach needs to be applied,” she said. “This requires heightened scrutiny when assessing visa applications of Russian citizens, as well, as particularly thorough checks at the EU external borders.”

She added: “To have a valid visa is not sufficient to be granted access to Schengen or the EU.”

Johansson’s call doesn’t represent a change in EU policy, but comes a day after Finland closed its border to Russian tourists. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland have also started to implement entry restrictions for Russian citizens traveling solely for the purpose of tourism or leisure.

A potential end to issuing Russian visas has long caused friction between EU countries, even before Russian President Vladimir Putin announced his recent military mobilization.

The EU has continued to shy away from a bloc-wide ban on Russian tourists. Instead, Brussels has made the visa application process longer and pricier, while allowing individual countries or regions to adopt even stricter measures.

Johansson urged member states to prioritize visas for certain types of Russians, including dissidents and journalists under threat. But tourist visas should be restricted or “deprioritized,” she added, due to the heightened security threat Europe faces with Russia’s increasing aggression in Ukraine.

And at the EU’s borders, Johansson said, countries should “transfer additional staff,” given the growing Russian exodus. Yet EU countries should also apply the same asylum rules for Russians as they do for all other citizens, she added.

Johansson did say EU countries should not accept visa applications from Russians in other non-EU countries, including some former Soviet states.

EU countries have received “a small but significant increase in applications by Russian nationals” for international protection, a European Union Agency for Asylum spokesman told POLITICO. Between January and July, countries got over 7,300 applications, according to EUAA data.

“The Agency is monitoring the impact of the partial mobilization of reservists,” he added.

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