HELSINKI (AP) — Finland's president said Thursday that he wants to make it harder for Russians to use owning real estate in the Nordic nation - usually apartments or summer cottages - as justification for obtaining travel visas.
“Getting a visa to a country is not a subjective right for anyone, but the visa issuer always has discretion,” President Sauli Niinisto told journalists in Helsinki. “Until now, owning a property or an apartment in Finland has been perceived as a factor supporting a visa application. I don’t think it’s necessary.”
Regional newspaper Etela-Saimaa reported in August that Russian citizens purchased property in Finland at an increased rate this year despite the war in Ukraine and Western economic sanctions against Russia.
As of Sept. 1, Finland slashed the number of visas - including for tourism purposes - issued to Russian citizens to one-tenth of the typical number, a move seen as a show of solidarity with Ukraine.
Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto recently told public broadcaster YLE that as a result of the new limit, Russian property owners have started to divide the ownership of their Finnish real estate among several people so more of them are eligible for visas.
Etela-Saimaa reported that the majority of Finnish real estate sales to Russian buyers as of August were in the South Karelia region, a picturesque lake area close to Russia's border.
Citizens of countries outside the European Union need to apply for permits from the Finnish Defense Ministry to buy property in Finland, which shares a 1,340-kilometer (830-mile) border with Russia - the longest of any EU member nation.
Finnish security police have warned for several years that Russian real estate dealings in Finland might involve properties that were of military interest to Moscow.
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Jari Tanner, The Associated Press