Borderless EU under strain as Russian spies ‘taking advantage’ to get into bloc

Prague has put forward a set of proposals aimed at addressing concerns related to the travel privileges of Russian diplomats in the aftermath of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Many governments have expelled Russian diplomats, alleging their involvement in intelligence activities.

However, some countries continue to issue visas to Moscow’s envoys, granting them unrestricted access to the Schengen zone, covering 24 EU member states, Switzerland, Norway, and Iceland.

The Czech Republic, having expelled more than 70 Russians last year due to the Ukraine conflict and their alleged role in a 2014 attack, is at the forefront of efforts to limit the movement of Russian diplomats.

As part of negotiations on the EU’s 12th sanctions package against Moscow, Prague proposes that Russian diplomats should only receive visas and residence permits allowing travel within the host country, excluding the rest of the Schengen area.

READ MORE: ‘Russia behind illegal immigration surge’, it’s hybrid warfare – Comment

Additionally, the Czech Republic advocates for the exclusive acceptance of biometric passports, which are more secure and less susceptible to forgery.

A specific concern raised by Prague is the issuance of visas by Austria to officials working at UN institutions in Vienna, enabling them to freely travel within the Schengen area, including the Czech Republic.

Although the debate is in its early stages, the intricate legal considerations involved make it unlikely for any changes to be incorporated into the current sanctions package under discussion.

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The European Commission transmitted these proposals to European capitals last week, and ongoing discussions also encompass a potential ban on Russian diamonds and stricter measures to enforce a price cap on Russian oil.

Meanwhile, Finland’s Prime Minister, Petteri Orpo, declared on Monday that Finland may take additional actions along its border with Russia. This comes in response to the closure of four border crossings due to an increase in asylum-seekers, with Finland accusing Moscow of allowing migrants from the Middle East and Africa, without valid travel documents, to reach the Finnish border.

Orpo did not rule out the possibility of closing more border crossings along the 1,340-kilometre Finnish-Russian border if the situation does not improve. Notably, 500 asylum-seekers arrived in Finland in November, a substantial increase compared to normal numbers.

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