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Cyprus and Greece are joining Germany in opposing a blocking of visas for Russian tourists wishing to visit the EU, rejecting a call for such a ban by Ukraine.
In recent weeks, Estonian, Finnish, Latvian and Lithuanian officials have floated the idea of an EU-wide ban, but German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has been the most important political weight to voice his opposition, saying Russian President Vladimir Putin should be blamed. for the war in Ukraine rather than the Russian people.
EU foreign ministers are expected to discuss calls for a tourist ban at a meeting in Prague in late August.
Cyprus, home to a large community of Russian-speaking expatriates, takes a similar stance to Berlin.
“It would be a decision in the wrong direction,” Kornelios Korneliou, secretary general of the Cypriot foreign ministry, told POLITICO. “We believe in people-to-people contacts and even Turkish nationals are granted visas by the Cypriot authorities, so we do not consider this measure to have any value for Russians.”
The majority of Russian speakers in Cyprus, some 50,000, live in Limassol, a city of 237,000 people on the south coast. Russians accounted for 25% of the total tourist arrivals on the island before the war.
“We must not prevent these communities from connecting with families and friends,” Korneliou added. “The main weapon is European unity and our partners must respect the sensitivity of others on this issue.”
Despite the close ties with Russia, the Cypriot government has supported the bloc’s escalation of sanctions against Russia, despite the heavy toll on the local economy.
Cypriot officials say that despite the fact that many companies have had to leave due to the sanctions, there is also a growing number of Russian, Belarusian and Ukrainian entrepreneurs, mainly from the IT sector, interested in settling in cities such as Limassol, although no official figures are available.
In neighboring Greece, despite strong Russophile sentiments that run deep in society, given centuries of religious, military, economic and cultural ties, the government was one of the first EU countries to announce that he would send weapons to Kyiv to help fight the invaders.
But the country is also not planning to change the status of Russian visas, according to government officials.
Northern Greece is a popular holiday destination for Russian tourists, traditionally in the summer.
The country saw an impressive 177% increase in July arrivals by air from Turkey, compared to 2019, Greece’s record tourism year. It also reported a massive 257% increase in arrivals from Serbia over the same period, according to figures from Athens International Airport. Officials note that many of them are Russian citizens traveling to Greece for vacation, as Serbian tourists usually visit Greece by car and Turks by boat. However, there are no specific figures available yet on nationalities.
Earlier this month, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy rejected the idea that tourist visas should remain in place to protect people fleeing persecution.
“There are people who really need protection, who are persecuted in Russia, can even be killed, and therefore they should receive help from the civilized world,” he said. “These are well-known legal mechanisms – through refugee status, asylum applications and other opportunities for help and support.”
“This should not apply to the rest of Russian citizens in Europe, tourism, entertainment, business affairs,” he added.