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Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal criticized EU efforts to prevent Russian citizens from visiting Europe in a recent interview with POLITICO – and now he’s making his case in Berlin and Brussels.
Ahead of a visit to German and European capitals for meetings, Shmyhal has been candid about what he wants.
“Visas should be stopped or suspended for now while Russia is waging a terrorist war,” he told POLITICO.
The Prime Minister is first due to meet German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Sunday, who has opposed a total visa ban for Russia, before traveling to Brussels on Monday to attend the EU-Ukraine Association Council, a group which meets occasionally to review bloc relations. with the aspiring member.
Shmyhal rejected the EU’s tentative first step on Russian visas last week, when foreign ministers agreed to suspend a 2007 visa facilitation deal with Russia – a step that will make the visa process smoother. onerous and expensive, but will not eliminate it completely.
“It’s not enough,” he said. “We believe that not only should the so-called visa requirement not be in place, but that tougher sanctions should be taken, vis-à-vis tourists and students.”
Debate over banning Russian travelers from entering the EU’s free movement area has divided member states for weeks, with Baltic and Eastern European countries advocating a complete halt to all Russian visitors. But others, led by France and Germany, opposed such a move, arguing that ordinary Russians should not be punished for Putin’s war in Ukraine.
Shmyhal’s remarks are just the latest sign that the contentious issue is unlikely to go away.
The actual process of translating the recent decision to suspend the 2007 agreement will likely take a few weeks. The EU must first formalize the decision – the meeting of foreign ministers was an informal meeting – and the European Commission will publish guidelines detailing who can be excluded.
The EU has also not ruled out taking further action and foreign ministers have already opened the door to individual countries – or groups of countries – taking their own measures to limit visas. Several Baltic and Eastern European countries should explore such options.
Notably, the recent decisions will not affect visas that already exist, although a spokesperson for the European Commission has refuted claims that there are already around 12 million visas allowing multiple entries for Russians in the EU. , saying the figure is less than one million.
“As of September 1, the number of valid visas held by Russian citizens was 963,189,” European Commission spokeswoman for home affairs Anitta Hipper said.
Proponents of a tougher stance on Russia insist that last week’s policy decision is only the first step in the process.
“This is just the starting point,” an EU official said. “We are looking at other ways to restrict travel from Russia, and of course each country can put in place its own measures.”
Shmyhal said he would raise the issue with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell at Monday’s meeting in Brussels.
“Visas should be stopped or suspended,” Shmyhal said. “Instead of tourists or students going to Europe to enjoy life or to study, they should stay in their country and tell their neighbours, their relatives, those around them how Europe really sees Russia . It should be like a cold shower on the whole of Russian society – to let them understand the consequences of what they are doing in Ukraine.
When asked if ordinary Russians and students should be punished for Putin’s war in Ukraine – Germany and France warned of losing the ‘hearts and minds’ of ordinary Russians – Shmyhal pointed out that 85% of Russians support Putin and the war.
“People need to know that by supporting Putin and his aggression…they have to pay for that support,” he said.
Shmyhal also plans to request more heavy weapons from European allies as Ukraine’s military continues its counteroffensive in Kherson – a critical bid to retake the territory from Russian control before winter.
Ukraine’s prime minister tells POLITICO that Russia is now using Soviet-era equipment and missiles as its stockpile of more advanced weapons runs out. But, he added, these weapons are less accurate and hit more civilian targets, necessitating certain weapons for Ukraine that the West can supply.
“We need more anti-missile, anti-aircraft, anti-land operations, we need more drones … to fight and hit these missiles that the Russians are using now,” he said. “We need more specific and more adapted equipment to protect our civilians. We need state-of-the-art air defenses to combat any potential air attack.
After a slow start, Germany supplied Ukraine with weapons, including anti-aircraft tanks, howitzers and anti-aircraft systems. But last week, German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht warned that Germany is now “at the limit” of what it can give Ukraine because its own stocks have run out. The issue is expected to feature prominently during Sunday’s meeting between Scholz and the Ukrainian prime minister.
Shmyhal acknowledged the challenges faced by European countries regarding their own stockpile.
“We communicate these needs to the European Commission and individual countries,” he said. “We understand that these are very sophisticated technological supplies, and we understand that there may not be enough volumes or quantities. But we would like to ask [them] to give us what is possible and [to] speed up deliveries.
Shmyhal was tight-lipped about Ukrainian progress in Kherson, amid a near total Ukrainian blackout. But he said: “We have stopped the Russian offensive, the situation on the front line is stable and they have no more advances”, reiterating the need for modern weapons and armour.
He also called on the EU to go further on sanctions against Russia, imploring capitals to target oil and gas.
“The toughening of sanctions against Russia is no less important than assistance in terms of the supply of weapons and armaments,” he said. “Sanctions should be strengthened.”
“We would like to push for a full and complete oil and gas embargo against Russia,” he continued. “We understand that many EU economies depend on Russian energy sources. We understand that these are difficult decisions, but we also understand that by imposing an oil and gas embargo on Russia, we would help the Russian budget to shrink and give them less opportunity to finance their terrorist activities and their genocidal war against Ukraine.
Monday’s EU-Ukraine meeting will also be the first since EU leaders granted Ukraine EU candidate status at the June European Council. But with Kyiv facing demands for reform, any prospect of Ukraine joining the bloc is still a long way off.