By Robert Muller
PRAGUE (Reuters) -The European Union should ban Russian tourists, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Wednesday, urging a step the bloc's foreign ministers gathered in Prague are unlikely to take due to deep divisions on the matter.
Kuleba also proposed a program in which Russian soldiers who surrendered would be rewarded with "a new life", though he did not say where.
Eastern and Nordic countries strongly back a tourism ban, while Germany and France have warned their peers it would be counter-productive, saying ordinary Russians should still be allowed access to the West.
The EU ministers are expected to agree in principle on suspending a visa facilitation agreement with Moscow - meaning Russians would have to wait longer, and pay more, for visas - but not on an outright EU travel ban.
"The time for half-measures is gone," Kuleba told Reuters before meeting with the EU ministers, asking them to go further. "Only a tough and consistent policy can produce results."
"A visa ban for Russian tourists and some other categories will be an appropriate response to Russia's genocidal war of aggression in the heart of Europe supported by an overwhelming majority of Russian citizens," Kuleba said in a statement emailed to Reuters.
In their joint memo, France and Germany said that, while security checks were needed, students, artists and others should still be allowed to travel to the EU.
"It is important to distinguish between warmongers and Russian citizens, artists, students ... We must continue to have ties with them," French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said on Tuesday.
But Lithuania's Gabrielius Landsbergis said more should be done. "Lithuania's position is that the number of (Russian) tourists arriving to the EU has to be ... reduced if not completely cancelled," he said.
Estonia, Finland, Lithuania, Latvia and Poland have written a joint statement asking the European Commission to propose measures to "decisively decrease the flow of Russian citizens into the European Union and the Schengen area," the Financial Times said.
"Until such measures are in place on the EU level, we will consider setting up temporary measures on the national level in order to address imminent public security issues related to the increased influx of Russian citizens across our borders," the FT quoted them as saying.
In his comments to Reuters, Kuleba also proposed launching a special program for Russian soldiers who did not want to fight in Ukraine anymore.
"(The message): save yourself and leave. Lay down arms,surrender to Ukrainian forces, and get an opportunity to start anew life," Kuleba said.
"I am confident that this offer is worth making, becauseeven if one Russian soldier lays down arms and decides to leave,it means saved Ukrainian lives and closer peace," Kuleba said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged Russiansoldiers on Tuesday to flee for their lives after his forceslaunched an offensive to retake southern Ukraine, but Moscowsaid it had repulsed the attack and inflicted heavy losses onKyiv's troops.
(Reporting by Robert Muller; Additional reporting by Sabine Siebold, Jan Lopatka; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Bradley Perrett)