The Latvian Foreign Ministry has proposed Schengen Area members adopt a unified approach regarding the entry of Russian and Belarussian citizens to the zone, with the suggestion following reports that a group of Russian football players arrived in Latvia as part of the Azerbaijani team, fully disregarding the currency entry restrictions.
According to LSM, the ministry intends to seek the support of Schengen members to come to terms and implement the same restrictions for Russian and Belarussian citizens.
Currently, Russian citizens have considerably less access to Latvia after the latter announced restrictions in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and now some Russian citizens can enter the country, but participants in sports events cannot enter. Despite this restriction, other Schengen member states’ visas allow holders entry to Latvia.
In this case, seven Russian citizens entered Latvia as part of an Azerbaijani football team using visas granted by a third country.
On the other hand, regulations set by the Cabinet of Ministers confirm that these Russian citizens lacked a valid justification for entering Latvia.
In addition, the Latvia Football Federation President, Vadims Lasenko, pointed out that they didn’t host the Azerbaijan club, and the matter of their participation in the game is the responsibility of the participating club.
LSM also reported that before the training camp in Austria, the Azerbaijan team had been issued Schengen visas, which allowed them entry into Latvia without border control.
In the Rules of Procedures of the Union of the European Football Federation, Russian passport holders are allowed to participate in games without crossing the EU-Russian border. Furthermore, these Russian citizens are considered to be legally staying in Latvia, as the Chief of the Ofice of Citizenship and Migration Affairs, Maira Roze, pointed out.
Since the visa was issued by another country and is valid for entry to other Schengen member states, the chief believed that this issue of Russian citizens’ entry to Latvia should be explained by the State Border Guard.
The chief of the State Border Guard’s Border Check and Immigration Control Office, Agnis Visnevskis, noted that the institution cannot provide information as to how the Azerbaijani football club had entered the Baltic country.
“They did not cross Latvia’s external border because if that happened, border guards would have had information about documents and permits,” Visnesvskis said.
In response to the incident, the ministry plans to raise the concern for European discussion and advises Latvian businesses and sports organisations to be cautious when considering cooperation with Russia and its citizens.