According to the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, since the start of the war in Ukraine, Estonia has become the second most frequent point of entry into the EU for Russian citizens.
Since the suspension of air traffic between Russia and the European Union at the end of February, nearly 300,000 Russian citizens have crossed the Narva Bridge from Russia to Estonia. From Narva, many travel to Italy, France and other Schengen area destinations, while some have also vacationed in Estonia. However, from Monday, September 19, this route to the EU will also be closed to Russian tourists.
The newly introduced restrictions will have the biggest impact on Russian tourists, but they will also affect Russian citizens who own apartments or dachas (summer cottages) in Estonia. However, the majority of Russian citizens entering Estonia through the Narva border crossing are locals with Estonian residence permits, visiting relatives or on business trips. Around a quarter of those crossing from Russia to Narva are EU citizens.
According to Marek Liiva, director of the Narva border checkpoint, the number of border crossings so far in September has been rather low. “The number of border crossings is already down compared to the summer period,” Liiva said.
“Yes, the sanctions that are already in place are the main reason (for the low number of crossings), but it’s also because it’s back to school, the end of school holidays, etc. I don’t see any major storms from the kind where (a lot of) people try to take advantage of the opportunity to cross at the last moment. At the moment it’s business as usual,” Liiva said.
At present, just under 4,000 people cross the border from Russia to Narva every day, a number three times smaller than before the coronavirus pandemic and the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine. Before the new restrictions, between 10 and 20 people were being sent back to Russia from the Narva border per day. However, it remains to be seen if this number increases.
“From our point of view at the border, we don’t expect to send many more people back, but we are of course prepared that the number of people we return per day will increase slightly. Border crossings will certainly drop a little, but I can’t predict by how much at the moment, let’s see what life brings,” Liiva said.
Russian tourists arriving in Narva were once eager to discuss their travel plans (with journalists at the border). However, they are now more reluctant to do so. Who knows what citizens in the EU or at home might think of what they say if questioned. However, they generally seem concerned about the upcoming restrictions.
Aleksandr, from St Petersburg, said he was very disappointed that he could no longer travel to the EU via Estonia. “We are going to Italy for a holiday. Just for tourism. We don’t know where we will take a holiday after this, it’s not clear yet. Travel will become more complicated,” he said.
On the surface, the situation at the Narva border post appears calm, traffic is smooth and there are no queues. However, according to border guards, this does not reflect the intense work they have to do, with the need to carry out thorough checks on everyone entering Estonia.
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