Baltic Sea

EU could only give Russians ‘humanitarian’ visas, says Lithuanian foreign minister | News | DW

EU states could follow Lithuania’s example and introduce a visa ban for Russian tourists, the country’s foreign minister, Gabrielius Landsbergis, told DW.

“People have had to flee Ukraine, some of them remain there, fighting for their lives, fighting for their homes there… during [people from Russia] can still travel freely and enjoy all the comforts of the free world, which their government is fighting against,” the minister said.

Lithuania has “essentially stopped issuing all visas to people who would go for recreation” and only issue visas in “visas for humanitarian purposes,” Landsbergis said.

This has not only political but also practical reasons, he stressed. Since 2020, Lithuania has “felt a huge influx of people fleeing Belarus and Russia”.

“We found a way to work with NGOs and other partners where we can actually assess who needs humanitarian assistance and who have fled persecution,” he said.

“Who do you issue a visa to first? Is it the family of an NGO member who might be persecuted, whose father or mother is being persecuted, or a tourist who wants to spend a few nice days on the Lithuanian coast?” he said.

In conversation with the Washington Post Last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on European Union states to ban visas for Russian nationals.

Lithuania’s Baltic neighbors Latvia and Estonia also no longer issue tourist visas to Russian citizens. However, some larger EU countries – including Germany – remain skeptical.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said a democratic Russia in the future must “come from within”

The question of arms for Ukraine

Since the first days of the Russian invasion, the Lithuanian government has said the conflict will be decided on the battlefield, Landsbergis told DW.

The foreign minister said that seeing what Ukrainians are doing with Western military equipment shows that they are capable of repelling and even retaking Russian-held lands after the February 24 invasion.

“I really believe and hope that this is proof enough that Ukrainians are capable, capable and trustworthy partners when it comes to defending Europe’s borders,” Landsbergis said. “The more weapons are provided [for Ukraine]the sooner the war will end.”

He also said that besides the weapons provided by the US, he would like to feel more “European pride when he sees more European weapons being supplied to Ukraine”. “But alas, probably us [the EU] don’t have the capacity yet,” said Landsbergis.

The role of transatlantic relations in Ukraine

Landsbergis stressed that European countries do a lot when it comes to taking in Ukrainian refugees or providing humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

However, when it comes to repelling the Russian invasion, NATO carries the greatest weight.

“This year has shown how important transatlantic unity is for both sides of the Atlantic,” said the Foreign Minister. According to Landsbergis both sides [the USA and the EU] need each other to maintain the security infrastructure not only in the region but worldwide.

As for the EU contribution to the Ukraine crisis, the bloc should start thinking about the post-war situation, the minister said. The EU, which has granted candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova, must support these countries in their “transition to full membership”.

He also believes that Europe must formulate a very clear strategy towards Russia, which will signal other potential invaders or disruptors of the global security order. The European Union must be prepared for further possible conflicts in the region, such as a conflict between Kosovo and Serbia, said Landsbergis.

The EU and transit to Kaliningrad

Against the background of European countries’ concerns about the coming winter, Landsbergis is certain that sanctions against Russia in the energy sector will not hit the EU as hard as expected. “It’s always better to expect the worst and be prepared for the situation, which may not be so good, and then have the tools to address the issues that are coming,” he said.

He expressed his hope that Europe “can return to increased pressure on Russia when we see that we are able to handle the situation in terms of energy and other things”.

Earlier this summer, the EU overturned part of its policy on transit from mainland Russia to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea. Lithuania wanted Brussels to maintain its original stance, Landsbergis said, but “didn’t feel cheated”.

The foreign minister does not consider the current quota system, in which Europe has set limits for the transit of essential goods to Kaliningrad, to be ideal, but “just a certain compromise that we have accepted,” said Landsbergis.

Russia reacted angrily when Lithuania tried to block transit through Kaliningrad. But Vilnius is only implementing a “European decision,” the minister said.

Moscow, he argued, chose to bully a “much smaller country like Lithuania” rather than turn on Brussels.

But despite Russian propaganda attacks, Lithuanians are not afraid of Russia, the minister assured. “We believe that NATO [of which Lithuania is a part] is the strongest and most efficient alliance there is and has ever been,” said Landsbergis.

Interview conducted by: Konstantin Eggert
Edited by: Rob Turner