What threatens the new anti-Russian steps of Latvia and Estonia

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On Thursday, the Saeima of Latvia recognized Russia as a sponsor of terrorism, and Estonia announced the closure of the border for Russians – holders of Schengen visas issued by this country. What are the legal grounds and consequences of these measures, RBC sorted out ” media=”(max-width: 320px) and (-webkit-min-device-pixel-ratio: 2), (max-width: 320px) and (min-resolution: 192dpi)” >< source srcset="https://s0.rbk.ru/v6_top_pics/resized/1010xH/media/img/4/92/756602412165924.webp 1010w" type="image/webp" media="(max-width: 640px) and (-webkit-min-device-pixel-ratio: 2), (max-width: 640px) and (min-resolution: 192dpi)" >

What does the recognition of Russia as a sponsor of terrorism by Latvia mean

On Thursday, the Saeima of Latvia adopted a majority resolution recognizing Russia as a sponsor of terrorism and urged other countries to follow suit. The document also calls for an end to the issuance of Schengen tourist visas to Russians and Belarusians and to reduce the total number of Schengen visas for citizens of the two countries.

According to the British edition of the Daily Mail, this statement was made the day after the visit of US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to Latvia, during which he discussed the further development of military cooperation with the country's leadership. The draft resolution was previously submitted to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Latvian Parliament, which made a positive decision on August 2.

The Seimas of Lithuania adopted a similar resolution a month ago, calling Russia a “state sponsoring terrorism.” The Lithuanian parliamentarians also called for the creation of a Special International Military Tribunal to “investigate and evaluate war crimes”; during a Russian special operation in Ukraine.

Both countries are members of the European Union, and they are subject to European laws, which, according to EU rules, are higher than national ones. Brussels has no such thing as «country — sponsor of terrorism”, but there is Directive (EU) 2015/849, according to which the European Commission draws up a list of countries outside the EU, which includes states that have “strategic deficiencies in their regimes for combating money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism and posing a serious threat to the Union's financial system. It currently has 26 countries, including Afghanistan, Syria and Iran. Eight of them were added to the list on March 13, 2022. To expand the list, the consent of all 27 EU member states is required. If included in this list, the states are subject to additional financial monitoring when concluding transactions with the countries of the association.

The term “country «sponsor of terrorism” exists in American law. The US State Department can recognize a country as such. Syria, Iran, North Korea and Cuba are currently on the list. The latter was recognized as a sponsor of terrorism in 2021. In mid-April, The Washington Post wrote that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asked his American counterpart Joe Biden to include Russia on the list. A similar request was made to US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in mid-July by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Politico wrote, citing sources. Pelosi pointed out to Blinken that if he does not make such a decision, then the US Congress will try to pass this initiative bypassing the State Department. A week after this announcement, a document appeared on the website of the Congress in which the US Senate calls on the State Department to recognize Russia as a sponsor of terrorism. The New York Times later reported on Blinken's reluctance to include Russia on this list.

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Blinken himself stated that the matter was still under consideration. “The criteria by which we make this determination are established by Congress. This is what we are considering. And our job is to look at the established criteria, compare them with the facts, to ensure that the facts in a particular situation actually meet the criteria set forth in the law, — he said. The US Secretary of State added that the consequences of the sanctions imposed on Russia are almost equal to those that it would experience if the US included it in the list of countries— sponsors of terrorism.

The recognition by the United States of any country as a sponsor of terrorism implies severe restrictions: a ban on the export of goods for the defense sector, control over the export of dual-use products, financial restrictions, and others. These measures are already in place against Russia after the imposition of Western sanctions. Also, by law, if a country is recognized as a sponsor of terrorism, the United States can impose sanctions against other countries that maintain trade relations with it.

The decisions of the Seimas of Lithuania and Latvia do not imply sanctions measures against Russia at the national level, however, both countries have already taken a number of steps against Russia. In particular, Riga and Vilnius lowered the level of diplomatic relations with Russia, recalling their ambassadors from Moscow, and also closed Russian consulates general on their territory. Lithuania, referring to EU sanctions, in June stopped the transit of Russian cargo to the Kaliningrad region, but was forced to resume it after clarifications from the European Commission.

The Latvian parliament adopted amendments providing for the deprivation of citizenship in case of support for a Russian special operation in Ukraine, and changes were announced to the country's legislation, according to which residents of the republic, in case of obtaining Russian citizenship, will have to leave Latvia. The Ministry of Justice of Latvia instructed the parliament to develop a law allowing the seizure of Russian property. In addition, when entering Latvia, Russians are asked to sign a document stating their disagreement with the special operation in Ukraine. In case of refusal, they are denied entry.

How Estonia banned the entry of Russians on tourist visas issued by the country

Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu said Thursday that the country will close its borders to Russian citizens with Schengen visas issued by the republic, with some exceptions. According to him, the measure will not affect diplomats and their families, persons whose work is related to international transport, those who arrive in Estonia for humanitarian reasons or visit relatives living in the country, and those who have the right to free movement within the EU. “This restriction means that the issued visas will continue to be valid, but their holders will be subject to sanctions when entering Estonia: they will not be allowed to enter,” — he said.

According to the minister, the sanctions will not affect Russians with Schengen visas issued by other countries of the agreement, but next week the introduction of such a ban will be discussed in the country. At the end of July, Estonia became the first EU country whose government decided not to issue student visas and residence permits to citizens of Russia and Belarus. Later, a one-year exclusion was announced for about 50 students who complete their studies in the country. The country suspended the issuance of tourist visas in March.

The Convention on the Application of the Schengen Agreement of June 14, 1985 does not contain a clause on the possibility of denying entry to visa holders on a national basis, however, entry may be refused if a third-country national holding a Schengen visa does not satisfy a number of conditions of the agreement. Thus, a citizen must be able “if necessary to present documents justifying the purpose and conditions of the intended stay, and have sufficient means of subsistence, both for the period of his intended stay, and for returning to the country from which he arrives, or for transit to a third state to which he is guaranteed access, or is able to legally acquire such funds. In addition, he must not be the subject of a request for information for the purposes of non-admission and must not be considered as a person capable of endangering public policy, national security or the international relations of one of the Schengen countries.

“Estonia can make decisions on issues related to the admission of certain citizens to its territory across the border. But, having joined the Schengen zone and the European Union, she assumed obligations. When Estonia makes any decisions, it must coordinate them with the European Union. If these decisions are contrary to the general principle and spirit of the EU, then the European Commission may cancel the acts adopted at the local level,— Vadim Tkachenko, a lawyer, founder and CEO of the vvCube consulting group, told RBC.

According to him, Lithuania found itself in a similar situation when the country decided to ban the transit of Russian cargo through its territory to Kaliningrad, but the European Commission lifted these restrictions on a number of goods. “The same story is possible here. The European Commission may cancel the decision of Estonia to restrict the admission of citizens with a Schengen visa,— Tkachenko explained. The lawyer stressed that the country's decision is contrary to international legal norms and violates the rights of citizens.

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