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17 May, 2023 11:05

EU state denies entry to Russian homeowners

Estonian lawmakers have refused to overturn travel restrictions, despite owners complaining that they cannot take care of their properties
EU state denies entry to Russian homeowners

Owning real estate in Estonia does not give Russian citizens an exemption from travel restrictions, the Baltic nation’s lawmakers have insisted.

On Tuesday, the Estonian parliament’s Constitutional Commission rejected a collective plea by more than 1,100 people, who said they cannot take care of their properties in the country as the government is denying them entry.

Estonia last year imposed a ban on Russian nationals entering via the countries’ shared border, even if they hold valid Schenghen visas, with exceptions made for those who have EU residence permits or family members in Estonia. Other EU countries bordering on Russia imposed similar restrictions.

Tallinn claimed the ban, which came into force last September, was necessary to defend its national security amid the armed conflict in Ukraine. Critics, including some within Estonia, have argued that the restrictions are discriminatory and contrary to EU values.

Russian citizens who own homes in Estonia, but have no residence permits, asked for a special exemption. They said without in-person visits it was difficult for them to pay their bills and ensure that their properties do not degrade.

The petition was rejected by MPs, with commission chair Igor Taro stating that the problem is not a constitutional matter, as the country’s fundamental law does not spell out the right for Russian nationals to own real estate on Estonian soil. However, if mounting debt and dilapidated buildings “start causing problems to the residents of Estonia, we should consider options to address that,” he said.

The commission claimed that it was Russia’s fault that its citizens were unable to enter the country, and urged people behind the petition to address their grievances to Moscow.

“Internal pressure on the Russian regime, which unleashed this war [in Ukraine], needs to be increased,” lawmakers reasoned in their formal response.

As the Estonian government took efforts to restrict the inward flow of Russian nationals  last year, Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu argued that the policy was morally justified and would nudge Russians to oppose their government, some with “cobblestones in their hands.” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova noted at the time that the top Estonian diplomat was openly advocating violence.

Moscow has described the campaign to restrict its nationals from entering the EU, promoted by several members of the bloc including Estonia, as “openly chauvinistic” and aimed at “canceling everything Russian.”