News Europe Sanctions make travel from Russia a privilege: flights to 2,000 euros or...

Sanctions make travel from Russia a privilege: flights to 2,000 euros or two days of bus and train

The passage over the Narva River, the natural border between Estonia and the European Union and Russia, reminded this summer of old movies from the times of the Cold War. The dozens of Russians traveling on the bus shuffled through their suitcases one by one in front of Estonian guards while a Ukrainian refugee was questioned in front of her two children as she fled to Europe. Almost five hours stuck there, just one leg of a much longer journey. The journey from Moscow to Madrid, which in the past took four and a half hours by direct flight, now requires either paying for a prohibitively expensive flight through the few remaining non-Russian-sanctioning countries, or losing two days each way between trains, buses and planes. That is, almost four days of the vacation if the round trip is added.

“Visiting Europe is a privilege, not a human right,” Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas declared on August 27 in an interview with EL PAIS. The head of the Estonian Government is perhaps the leader who has used the harshest terms of the countries of the community bloc that advocated a total ban on visas for Russians. That argument – ​​which Kallas had already included in a tweet earlier – sparked a wave of criticism in Russia, which has welcomed the decision finally made by the EU with evident discontent. Brussels will not completely eliminate the granting of visas, but it will make obtaining them much more difficult, longer and more expensive, by suspending the 2007 agreement that facilitated the processing of entry permits for Russian tourists in the Schengen zone.

Obtaining one of these visas was not excessively difficult until now for the Russians despite the sanctions. What the punitive measures of the West have already caused is that traveling has become a privilege reserved for very few citizens of the country due to the consequences of the Kremlin’s offensive on Ukraine. The blockade of airspace and sanctions have caused such a shortage of flights that the ticket to Europe alone can cost a Russian the equivalent of two or three months’ salary, if he does not cross the land borders with Estonia or Finland.

What used to be just trips have now become an annoying obstacle course. “I traveled to Madrid after starting everything [el conflicto en Ucrania]. It was a long, uncomfortable trip and I was very nervous. I had to go from Moscow to Saint Petersburg, and from there by bus to Helsinki to catch a plane,” Irina Samoylenko, whose daughter, Vera, lives in the Spanish capital, told EL PAIS. “They held us for a long time at the border for an extremely scrupulous inspection. They opened all our suitcases, they checked everything. Also, since the cards don’t work for us, I had to carry all the money with me, ”she recalls.

These problems do not affect only Russian tourists. This is the case of the Spanish PS, who asks to be identified only with his initials. This man lives in Spain but his partner and his four-year-old daughter reside in Moscow.

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“Before, it took a long time, with a direct flight from Barajas to [aeropuerto internacional de Moscu] Domodedovo, between 10 and 12 hours from door to door and it cost me about 400 euros in total. Now I fly with stopovers to Tallinn or Helsinki, from there I take a bus to St. Petersburg, and then a train to Moscow. It takes between 38 and 48 hours and I get a total of about 700 euros depending on how far in advance I can buy the tickets”, he lamented in a telephone conversation a few days after returning to his house in Spain. These trips that seem eternal can be even longer when the destination is not St. Petersburg or Moscow but cities in remote provinces. It is the test faced by Marina, a Russian who lives in Milan and who travels aboard the bus that covers the Tallinn-St. Ukraine”. More than 1,700 kilometers separate St. Petersburg and that city in southern Russia.

Russian airlines’ planes are not only at risk of being blocked when landing in the countries that freeze assets from the Slavic country, but since the adoption of sanctions, many are parked, having stopped receiving spare parts. All this has caused a gigantic bottleneck of the few Russian flights to “safe” territories, such as some Middle Eastern nations and Turkey. The consequence is that prices have skyrocketed: for example, traveling to Europe with a stopover in Istanbul with a Turkish company far exceeds 100,000 rubles, between 1,500 and 2,000 euros at current exchange rates. “For a family with a girl, it means almost 6,000 euros per trip, crazy,” emphasizes the Spanish PS

The uncertainty about possible future trips is also absolute. Aliona paid 3,500 euros in May to a visa agency to process a student permit in the Schengen zone. The process is very slow, even more so with the expulsions in recent months of diplomats who worked in Western consulates, and now it will become even more complicated with the European decision to break the 2007 express visa agreement. sector in Russia in the next 10 years”, this specialist from marketing who until now worked organizing events for foreign firms. “Now I’m stuck in Russia watching[the impact of]all this news reflect on myself,” she laments.

The European veto on tourist visas for Russians does not seem to have a great impact on the majority of the population. According to a survey by the Public Opinion Foundation, only 14% of Russians have gone on vacation abroad in the last five years. In the 12 months prior to last August, only 2% of citizens of the Slavic nation had traveled outside its borders. 69% of Russians have never left their country. According to data from the Russian border administration, the top three destinations in 2022 were the internationally unrecognized Caucasian territory of Abkhazia, followed by Turkey and Egypt. These last two hotel and beach destinations have seen their Russian reservations plummet this summer by half compared to the previous one.

Send money

Money transfers abroad are another problem faced by many Russians and their relatives. Most of the banks in the Slavic country have been disconnected from the SWIFT system and Spanish entities often block or cause problems with money transfers to Russia. “The last time I spent money was with Western Union, that is not viable now,” adds PS, who in August brought “a wad of money” with him to Russia in cash. He barely spent three weeks on vacation with his daughter, the first in more than half a year. Before, making a trip to Moscow at any time to see her was possible on a bridge; Under the current circumstances, impossible.

Many Russians have also lost their clients abroad. This is the case of Maria Shelkova, a psychologist and sexologist who previously attended telematically to some Russian-speaking patients who lived abroad. “From the moment the sanctions appeared, she was finished. If they don’t have the possibility to send money to an account in rubles, I can’t collect, ”she stresses to this newspaper.

“I had a client from Ukraine, from kyiv. It’s funny how sanctions divide us. This is not about politics, we are ordinary people, with her own ties, ”Shelkova reflected before explaining that her patient lives in Norway with her husband. “As soon as she started all this, she started taking care of the refugees: she set up an organization and her parents moved in with her. She put a lot of stress on him and she wanted him to help her. She didn’t care that I was Russian and she was Ukrainian. She trusted me. However, she could not send money. We look for variants through a friend with euro accounts, but it is not comfortable and it consumes time and commissions. In the end we had to call it quits,” she noted.

The last time he set foot in the European Union was in 2019, on a trip to France. “Now I can’t go there to rest for a week. You lose a lot of travel time and you can’t use the Russian card anywhere, ”he says in another phone conversation from the Maldives. Flying there costs half that of destinations in Europe, and its 13-hour journey even seems short.

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Source: EL PAIS



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