Porsches, Bentleys, Mercedes and other prestigious brands with Russian license plates have flooded the parking lot of the airport in Helsinki after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Finish capital has become a major transit point for wealthy Russian tourists.
At the start of the war, the European Union closed its airspace to Russian aircraft, forcing Russians who want to travel to Europe to cross the border or take a circuitous route traveling with non-Western airlines. Helsinki airport is a five-hour drive from St. Petersburg.
Since Moscow lifted Covid travel restrictions in July, there has been a boom in the number of Russian travelers and growing discontent in Europe over Russian tourists being allowed in at the height of the war in Ukraine.
A quick walk through the parking lot at Helsinki airport reveals dozens, if not hundreds, of high-end cars with Russian license plates, such as a new Mercedes-Benz S-class sedan or a Porsche 911 Turbo S.
Consulted by AFP, Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto confirms that Finland has become “a transit country” for Russian tourists. In the wake of growing dissatisfaction with Russian tourism amid the war in Ukraine, Finland announced last week that it would limit Russian tourist visas to 10% of the current volume as of September 1st.
“Russians come here on Schengen visas issued by many different countries and continue their route through Helsinki airport,” Haavisto said. Nearly two-thirds do so with a Schengen visa issued by a country such as “Hungary, Spain, Italy, Austria, Greece and Spain, (which) are among the top issuing countries every year,” Mert Sasioglu, spokesman for Finnish border guards, told AFP, alluding to a survey conducted by his collective in August.
Schengen rules do not allow Finland to close its border to specific nationalities, explains the Foreign Minister. Such sanctions can only be decided jointly by the European Union.
“Since Finland and the Baltic countries plan to restrict these visas, it would be good if the European Union countries make similar decisions,” said Haavisto, who will raise this at the next EU foreign ministers’ meeting on August 30th in the Czech Republic.
The European Commission said last week that it is considering a “coordinated approach” on Russian visas. Eastern European countries such as Latvia, Lithuania and Poland stopped issuing tourist visas to Russians months ago and Estonia plans to bar passage to Russians with visas issued by another EU country.
On Thursday 11 August, Latvia’s Parliament adopted a declaration calling Russia a state sponsor of terrorism and encouraging other countries to adopt similar initiatives. The statement alludes to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the actions of Russian armed forces in that country as the main reason for condemning Russia as a “terrorist state.”
The Latvian Embassy in Moscow has already stopped issuing them for Russian citizens except for people attending funerals of a close relative. On August 9th, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said on Twitter that tourism from Russia to the EU should end. Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin spoke in the same vein.
Meanwhile, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz spoke against banning tourist visas for Russian citizens. According to news agency EFE, Scholz argued that at the European Union (EU) level relevant sanctions have already been adopted against people in the Kremlin’s entourage.