According to the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, since the start of the war in Ukraine, Estonia has become the second most frequent entry point for Russian citizens into the EU.
Since the suspension of air traffic between Russia and the European Union at the end of February, almost 300,000 Russian citizens have crossed the Narva Bridge from Russia to Estonia. From Narva, many travel on to Italy, France and other destinations in the Schengen area, while some have also spent their vacation time in Estonia. However, from Monday, September 19, this route to the EU will also be closed to Russian tourists.
The newly introduced restrictions will have the greatest impact on Russian tourists, but they will also affect Russian citizens who own apartments or dachas (summer houses) in Estonia. However, the majority of Russian citizens entering Estonia through the Narva border crossing are local residents with Estonian residence permits who are visiting relatives or on a business trip. About a quarter of those crossing from Russia to Narva are EU citizens.
According to Marek Liiva, director of the border checkpoint in Narva, the number of border crossings in September has been rather low so far. “The number of border crossings has already decreased compared to summer time,” Liiva said.
“Certainly the sanctions already in place are the main reason (for the low number of crossings), but it is also because autumn is coming, the end of the school holidays and so on. I don’t see any major storm of this type where (a large number of) people try to take the opportunity to cross at the last moment. It’s business as usual at the moment,” Liiva said.
Almost 4,000 people are currently crossing the border from Russia to Narva every day, three times fewer than before the coronavirus pandemic and the start of the Russian war in Ukraine. Before the new restrictions, between 10 and 20 people were being sent back to Russia from the Narva border every day. Whether that number will increase, however, remains to be seen.
“From our perspective at the border, we don’t expect to send back many more people, but we are of course prepared for the number of people we send back per day to increase slightly. Border crossings will definitely go down a bit but I can’t predict by how much at the moment, let’s see what life brings,” Liiva said.
Russian tourists arriving in Narva used to be eager to discuss their travel plans (with journalists at the border). However, they are now doing so more reluctantly. Who knows what people in the EU or at home think about things they say when they are interviewed. However, they seem generally concerned about the upcoming restrictions.
Aleksandr, who is from St. Petersburg, said he was very disappointed that he could no longer enter the EU via Estonia. “We’re going on vacation to Italy. For tourism only. We don’t know where we will go on vacation after that, it’s not clear yet. Traveling is becoming more complicated,” he said.
On the surface, the situation at the Narva border crossing seems calm, traffic is light and there are no queues. But border guards say that doesn’t reflect the intense work they have to do as they have to thoroughly screen everyone entering Estonia.
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