Russian journalist bans entry to Estonia

A Russian journalist said he was banned from entering Estonia over the weekend after the Baltic country decided to no longer allow Russian nationals on tourist visas.

The incident came days before Estonia’s tourist visa entry ban came into force on Thursday, a measure imposed as part of a wider European debate over the exclusion of Russian tourists due to of the country’s continued invasion of Ukraine.

Yaroslav Varenik, a journalist with regional media 29.ru in northern Russia, Told Russian independent media that Estonian border guards canceled his tourist visa after a two-hour interrogation on Sunday.

The guards told him that the hostel reservation he had been able to book with his Russian bank card – although Visa and Mastercard had blocked Russian card transactions due to sanctions – had been cancelled, Varenik told the European edition of Meduza and Novaya Gazeta.

“The conditions and purpose of [Varenik’s] stay were not justified”, Meduza and Dozhd cited the visa revocation notice they said they got saying.

When he first arrived on the Russian side of the border, Varenik said he was subjected to seven hours of confrontational interrogation and threatened with criminal charges for “insulting religious feelings” before being released.

“They asked about my attitude towards the war… They read my messages [on] WhatsApp and Telegram,” Varenik told Meduza. “If they didn’t like the answers, they would yell ‘Are you stupid?'”

“The bus [to Estonia] left without me,” Varenik said, recounting his overall nine-hour ordeal on both sides of the border.

Estonia is among a handful of EU member states whose leaders have called for a ban on issuing visas to Russian passport holders in recent days.

Russians are known to have transited through neighboring EU member states like Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Finland to reach other destinations in Europe after the 26-member bloc banned Russian airlines of its airspace following the invasion of Ukraine.

Meduza, Dozhd and Novaya Gazeta Europe all reported that Varenik was a witness in the criminal case against jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s disbanded Anti-Corruption Foundation.

Authorities froze Varenik’s bank account in 2019 and summoned him for questioning in 2021 as part of the investigation, they added.

Estonia, a former Soviet republic and current member of the European Union, suspended the issuance of tourist visas to Russians in early March following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.