LONDON — British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace suggested the UK could tighten visa requirements for Russians, but expressed doubts about a total ban on all Russian tourists.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today program on Wednesday, Wallace said he believed the UK “can toughen up the terms” of its visa system, but added: “I’m not sure ‘an outright ban is the right solution’.
The Baltic countries are currently pushing for a full EU-wide ban on Russian tourists, which EU foreign ministers are expected to discuss in Prague next week. The proposal has met with resistance in Germany, Greece and Cyprus, among other member countries. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other senior officials in Kyiv have demanded a total blockage of Russian travellers.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell poured cold water on the proposal this week, saying the EU should “be more selective”.
Wallace is the UK prime minister to openly discuss the possibility of London changing its own visa rules in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“This is a matter for the Minister of the Interior to consider,” he added. “But I don’t like – and I’m sure none of your listeners like – watching oligarchs’ wives or even Russian officials’ wives having fun in Greece or the south of France, or on superyachts around the world, while their army is committing war crimes in Ukraine. I think that’s very wrong.
Wallace denied “any hesitation” in Western support for Ukraine, but admitted “there are still some disagreements on the level of sanctions”.
Speaking on Sky News, Wallace’s deputy James Heappey also dismissed any suggestion that spiraling energy prices could force the UK to rethink its position.
“I can understand why a lot of people…worried about the cost of living will agree…that perhaps the simplest solution to the cost of living crisis is for us to restore relations with Russia, and it all comes down to the way it was in the European energy market,” Heappey said. “Everything I’ve seen over the past six months tells me this would be catastrophic for security in the Euro-Atlantic.”
Camille Gijs contributed reporting.