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Russian tourists’ luxury cars fill Helsinki Airport

#Russian #tourists #luxury #cars #fill #Helsinki #Airport

Porsches, Bentleys and other luxury cars with Russian license plates fill the parking garage at Helsinki Airport as Finland becomes a major transit country for Russian tourists flying to Europe.

The European Union closed its airspace to Russian planes after Moscow invaded Ukraine, forcing anyone wishing to travel to Europe to cross the border or take a detour on non-Western airlines.

Since Russia’s Covid-19 restrictions expired in July, there has been a boom in Russian travelers and a mounting backlash in Europe against allowing Russian tourists as the war rages on.

A quick stroll through the Helsinki Airport car park revealed dozens, if not hundreds, of high-end cars with Russian license plates, including a new Mercedes-Benz S-Class sedan and a Porsche 911 Turbo S.

“It confuses me,” Finnish traveler Jussi Hirvonen said after exiting the garage. “I wish they weren’t here before the situation in Ukraine is resolved.”

Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto told AFP the Nordic nation had become a “transit country” for Russian tourists.

“Helsinki Airport is currently seeing a lot of Russian tourism.”

– Finland wants EU decision –

Finland said last week it would limit Russian tourist visas to 10 percent of the current volume from September 1 as discontent over Russian tourism mounts amid the war in Ukraine.

But Russians continue to enter Finland on visas issued by other EU countries in the borderless Schengen travel area for their trips.

“They come here on Schengen visas issued by different countries and then travel on via Helsinki Airport,” Haavisto said.

About two-thirds of Russians cross Finland’s eastern border on Schengen visas issued by a country other than Finland, according to a survey conducted by the Finnish Border Guard in August.

“Hungary, Spain, Italy, Austria, Greece and Spain usually issue visas to Russians and are generally among the countries that issue the most each year,” border guard Mert Sasioglu told AFP.

Schengen rules do not allow Finland to close the border to certain nationalities, Haavisto said. Such sanctions can only be decided jointly by the EU.

“As Finland and the Baltic countries plan to restrict these visas, it would be good if all EU countries made similar decisions,” Haavisto said.

This feeling was shared by many Finns at the airport.

“There should be an EU decision to close the border,” said Finnish traveler Jussi Hirvonen.

Finland intends to raise the issue at the next meeting of EU foreign ministers on August 30 in the Czech Republic.

– ‘Everyone should travel’ –

After Russia lifted its Covid travel restrictions on July 15, the number of Russian tourists traveling to Finland has surged.

While the numbers are still well below pre-Covid levels, there were more than 230,000 border crossings in July – up from 125,000 in June.

The idea of ​​not being able to travel to Europe is disappointing for many Russian travelers.

“Everyone should travel because when you see how other peaceful countries live, you become more peaceful,” said Pavel Alekhin, a 32-year-old Russian professional athlete on his way to a bike festival in Basel.

Russian traveler Vadim van der Berg said the situation is “very difficult” for ordinary Russians as many now lack the ability to fly to work or study.

“We are all waiting for this to stop and we want a normal situation around the world, including in our country and in Ukraine.”

– Europe divided –

The European Commission last week acknowledged talks were underway to see if a “coordinated approach” could be reached on Russian visas.

Eastern EU countries Latvia, Lithuania and Poland stopped issuing new tourist visas to Russians shortly after the war began.

Estonia has gone one step further and is trying to stop Russians being issued visas by other EU countries.

But Chancellor Olaf Scholz has expressed reservations about such restrictions.

“This is not the Russian people’s war, this is Putin’s war,” said Scholz.

He said the cap on tourist visas would also “punish all people fleeing Russia because they disagree with the Russian regime.”

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