Visa ban for Russians? Belgium does not want "total isolation" of Russian population

Belgium does not want "a total isolation of Russian people", Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib underlined in Prague on Wednesday, before consulting with her European counterparts on tightening visa policy towards Russia.

"It is important to target the right people, namely those who support this unjust war in Ukraine and those who try to avoid economic sanctions," says Lahbib. But Belgium does not want "a total isolation of Russian people". "It is important that Russians who are also suffering under this dictatorship can freely express their opinions and can allow us to hear a different voice in Europe from that of the regime in Moscow," the minister said.

At the informal meeting of European foreign ministers in Prague, some Member States are pushing for a far-reaching entry ban for Russians. Countries such as Finland, Poland, the Czech Republic and the Baltic States have already introduced strict visa restrictions and want the other member states to follow. If not, Russian tourists will still be able to use the airports in these countries to travel to destinations elsewhere in Europe. They find it unacceptable that Russians can have holidays in Europe while the Russian army goes to war in Ukraine. ​ 

Lahbib points out that Belgium has been unable to issue tourist visas to Russians for some time now, following Moscow's decision to expel a large number of its diplomatic staff from the country. Nevertheless, Belgium has little interest in a total entry ban for Russians, just like Germany and France. Belgium is willing to consider a further suspension of the agreement with Russia on the facilitation of the issuance of visas, however. This would make the processing of visa applications more expensive and complex, resulting in longer wait times. 

Lahbib stressed the importance of "a common" European policy towards Moscow. "We should avoid a patchwork of measures that allows Russians to engage in visa shopping," the minister said.



Belgium's Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib arriving at an informal meeting of EU Foreign Ministers in Prague on August 31, 2022 © Michal Cizek / AFP

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