After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the European Union closed its airspace to Russian planes. However, since then Russians have been getting around that by first driving into Finland, parking at Helsinki airport, and flying from there. Which is why Helsinki airport’s parking garage is currently filled with high-end cars—Porsche 911s, Range Rovers, and Mercedes G-Wagons—wearing Russian license plates.
The surge in Russian travelers flying from Finland came after Russia lifted its Covid travel restrictions on July 15 and, according to AFP, there were said to be 230,000 border crossings in July alone. “Helsinki airport is seeing a lot of Russian tourism at the moment.” Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto told AFP.
How are Russians allowed to drive into Finland if they aren’t allowed to fly into Europe? They use what’s called a Schengen visa, which permits any carrier to travel freely throughout most European Union countries. There are limitations to how long Schengen visa holders can stay in other countries (90 days in a 180 day period) but it does allow its holders to use international airports.
What’s frustrating to some Finnish citizens is that the Russian travelers were issued Schengen visas by countries other than Finland, such as Italy, Hungary, Spain, and Greece. And according to Schengen rules, Finland cannot close its borders to any specific nationalities. However, Finland wants to prevent the use of the Schengen visa for this very reason. “As Finland and the Baltic countries are planning to restrict these visas, it would be good if all EU countries took similar decisions,” Haavisto said.
There’s a meeting of European Union Foreign Affairs on August 30 and Finland wants to raise this issue to the rest of the EU’s foreign ministers. The European Union acknowledges that there’s an issue with these visas allowing Russian travelers over the Finish border and will attempt to create some sort of policy to help. However, other EU countries understand that most Russians aren’t traveling to Finland, or anywhere else, with bad intent. In fact, many are trying to escape.
“This is not the Russian people’s war, it is Putin’s war,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said. He said that putting a blanket limit on all Russian Schengen visas would prevent “all the people who flee Russia because they disagree with the Russian regime”.
This is a tricky diplomatic situation. Finland isn’t comfortable with Russians finding a travel-ban loophole by crossing over and using its airports to travel internationally. But the European Union acknowledges that it’s necessary for many Russian people to flee Putin’s reign. All of EU’s foreign minsters will try and figure out a solution to this in a couple of days but, until then, expect to see many more Russian luxury cars parked at Helsinki airport.