The Czech Republic, which holds the rotating EU presidency, faced stiff resistance from some member states Tuesday over barring Russians from travelling within the bloc following the Ukraine invasion.
The Czechs want to suspend a 2007 deal that eased visa applications for Russian tourists and some European Union members have urged an outright visa ban.
But some countries including EU powerhouses Germany and France as well as Hungary, Luxembourg and Austria have raised objections.
“There is no place for tourism,” said Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky, who is hosting an informal two-day meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers in Prague.
Tightening visa restrictions would “send a signal to the elite in Moscow and Saint Petersburg”, he added.
But France and Germany objected to excessive restrictions in an unofficial diplomatic document obtained by AFP.
They urged checks on Russian visa applicants for potential security risks but advised the EU to let in students, artists or scholars.
“We should not underestimate the transformative power of experiencing life in democratic systems first-hand, especially for future generations,” they said in a joint document.
French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said it was important to distinguish between those who are to blame for the war and those who are not.
“And we… have to retain our ties to the latter,” she said, singling out Russian artists, students and journalists.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto, whose country has resisted efforts to isolate Moscow over the invasion of Ukraine, also objected.
“I don’t think that the visa ban is an appropriate decision under the current circumstances,” he said.
Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn echoed him.
“We must not have a new Iron Curtain in Europe,” he argued.
“We all agreed in the beginning that this was (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s war.”
And Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said: “The EU must not make a sweeping judgement on 140 million people.”
The Czech Republic stopped issuing visas for Russians on February 25, a day after Russia had invaded Ukraine, allowing exceptions for civil society actors or humanitarian cases.
Russia’s neighbours Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland have since urged Brussels to ban Russian tourists in the EU’s Schengen common travel zone.
Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu said in Prague it was time to target ordinary Russians, following earlier visa restrictions on Russia’s official delegations and business leaders.
“These silent private people should also understand there are consequences of the war,” he said.
“What is literally paid by their tax money are bombs which are now killing Ukrainian children and (targeting)… hospitals, kindergartens, schools,” he added.