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2022.08.06 12:00

‘They should be asked which side they are on.’ Despite banning visas, Russians flock to Lithuania

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Lithuania was among the first countries to restrict visas for Russian citizens, including a full ban on tourist visas. However, it has not produced the intended effect – more nationals from the neighbouring country have visited Lithuania than before the war.

“If Italy has issued a tourist visa, then, of course, one should fly to Italy for tourism, not to Lithuania. But if one flies to Italy and then decides to visit the Gediminas Tower in Vilnius, in principle it is not forbidden,” said Evelina Gudzinskaitė, head of the Migration Department.

And if they do come to Lithuania, "they can apply for a long-stay national visa or a residence permit", she added.

Between January 1 and June 30, 2,280 Russians applied for a temporary residence permit in Lithuania. According to the Migration Department, one application was rejected. As of mid-July, around 1,100 applications were still pending.

However, the procedure for issuing a temporary residence permit in Lithuania normally takes up to four months, so applications for some of the issued permits were likely submitted at the end of last year, according to the Migration Department.

According to the Foreign Ministry, the introduction of a state of emergency in the country is subject to the emergency measures set out in the Seimas resolution, including the tightening of the visa regime for foreign nationals.

“Following the tightening of the visa regime, the acceptance of visa applications of citizens of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus [...] has been suspended, except in cases when the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry mediates in the issuance of the visas,” the ministry said in a comment sent to LRT.lt.

But Lithuania's former foreign minister, Linas Linkevičius, has criticised the existing situation.

“When innocent people are being killed, when a neighbouring country is being invaded for no reason, violating all rights and principles, it shouldn’t be natural that these people are travelling around the world at the same time,” Linkevičius told LRT TV.

According to MP Giedrius Surplys, it may be legally possible to further restrict the entry of Russians into Lithuania, but this measure would be excessive.

“If we wanted to control [the flow of Russians], then we would have to resume border controls with Poland and Latvia,” he said.

In the politician’s words, it would make more sense to tighten the procedure for issuing new residence permits, as well as the screening of Russians who are already living in Lithuania.

“I think the process of renewing the residence permits of all Russian citizens who are currently in Lithuania should be more serious. They should be asked which side they are on,” Surplys said.

Restrictions in other countries

Restrictions on Russian citizens are already being introduced in neighbouring countries. According to Latvian media, some people arriving from Russia are now being asked to sign a document condemning Russia’s actions in Ukraine at a passport control point.

“Since the start of the war, 64 people have been refused entry to Latvian territory from Russia at the border because of suspicions, or because people said outright that they support Russia’s actions in Ukraine,” said Paulius Jakelis, a Lithuanian living in Latvia.

Estonia is also introducing additional restrictions. The country will no longer issue temporary residence permits and study visas for Russian citizens. Meanwhile, Russians who have been granted a permit by another country will not be able to work in Estonia.

“We cannot act as if there is no genocidal war in some areas of life. They are citizens of a country fighting a genocidal war. In this situation, Estonia plans to also encourage the European Union to impose such restrictions. The sanctions should affect the whole of Russian society,” said Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu.

Finnish politicians are also talking about imposing restrictions on Russians entering the county. This year, Finland has already received more than 50,000 applications for tourist visas from Russian citizens.