Porsches and Bentleys fill Helsinki airport as Russian tourists head to Europe

Porsches and Bentleys fill Helsinki airport as Russian tourists head to Europe

Discontent grows over Finland’s visa policy as country becomes key transit route for Russian travellers

Luxury cars with Russian number plates fill the premium parking area at Helsinki airport.

Porsches, Bentleys and other luxury cars with Russian licence plates are filling the parking garage at Helsinki airport as Finland becomes an important transit country for Russian tourists flying to Europe.

The EU shut its airspace to Russian planes after Moscow invaded Ukraine, forcing anyone who wants to travel to Europe to drive across the border or take a circuitous route using non-western airlines.

Since Russia’s Covid-19 restrictions expired in July, there has been a boom in the number of Russian travellers and a rising backlash in Europe against allowing Russian tourists to enter while the war continues.

A quick stroll through the car park at Helsinki airport revealed dozens if not hundreds of high-end cars with Russian plates, including a new Mercedes-Benz S-class sedan and Porsche 911 Turbo S.

“It boggles me,” a Finnish traveller, Jussi Hirvonen, said after leaving the garage. “I wish they weren’t here before Ukraine’s situation is solved.”

The Finnish foreign minister, Pekka Haavisto, said Finland had become a “transit country” for Russian tourists. “Helsinki airport is seeing a lot of Russian tourism at the moment,” he added.

Finland said last week it would limit the number of Russian tourist visas to 10% of current volumes as of 1 September after rising discontent over Russian tourism amid the war in Ukraine.

Russians continue to enter Finland with visas issued by other EU countries in the Schengen borderless travel area for their journeys. “They come here on Schengen visas issued by various different countries and then continue further via Helsinki airport,” Haavisto said.

According to a survey conducted by the Finnish border guard in August, about two-thirds of Russians crossing Finland’s eastern border do so with a Schengen visa issued by a country other than Finland.

“Hungary, Spain, Italy, Austria, Greece and Spain normally issue visas to Russians, and are generally among the top issuing countries each year,” said Mert Şaşıoğlu, a border guard official. Many eastern EU members stopped issuing tourist visas to Russians shortly after the 24 February invasion but Russians with visas issued by other EU countries are allowed into all EU states.

Lithuania’s foreign minister, Gabrielius Landsbergis, on Tuesday said it could seek a “regional solution” for banning Russian tourists if EU member states fail to agree on a bloc-wide sanction and expected to hold talks next week with Latvia, Estonia, Finland and Poland on the sidelines of an EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Prague.

“We seek a European solution in the first place, because it is the most sustainable and legally correct,” Landsbergis told reporters in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius.

“If we don’t reach one, we do not rule out the possibility of looking for a regional solution that would include the Baltic states, Poland and potentially Finland,” he added, conceding however that such a move would be “difficult”.

Haavisto said Schengen rules do not allow Finland to close the border to specific nationalities since such sanctions can only be decided jointly by the EU.

“As Finland and the Baltic countries are planning to restrict these visas, it would be good if all EU countries took similar decisions,” he added.

This sentiment was shared by many Finns at the airport. “There should be an EU decision to close the border,” said one traveller, Jussi Hirvonen.

The Nordic country intends to raise the issue at the next meeting of EU foreign affairs ministers in the Czech Republic on 30 August.