Ending seasonal program, Albania reintroduces year-round visas for Russian tourists 

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times April 24, 2023 13:15

Ending seasonal program, Albania reintroduces year-round visas for Russian tourists 

Story Highlights

  • Albania raised some eyebrows for keeping Russia on the waiver list last year, following Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

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TIRANA, April 24, 2023 - Albania has officially ended its tourist season visa waiver for citizens of Russia, following concern the waiver was contrary to the country’s international obligations as part of its condemnation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

Albania, a NATO member, has joined all EU and other international sanctions on Russia, but had resisted ending the visa waiver program as it hoped to attract as many tourists as possible over the summer, part of a wider program to waive visas from large countries in far flung places. 

The decision to remove Russia from the waiver list was taken during the Albanian government’s meeting last week, when the list of visa waiver countries was revised. 

The news was made public by Albania’s embassy in Moscow and confirmed by the Russian embassy in Tirana, each issuing statements to the effect that Russia is now excluded from the list of countries whose citizens can travel without a visa from May to September.

Albania raised some eyebrows for keeping Russia on the waiver list last year, after a direct request through a video address of the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy to the Albanian parliament. 

"You have to limit the arrival of Russian tourists, because you cannot know who is coming to you, maybe murderers or maybe the executioners of Mariupol or perhaps any of those who are working today to undermine your country," President Zelenskyy told the Albanian parliament.

The 2022 list included eight countries and provided for visa-free entry for the period from April 20 to Dec. 31. For three of the countries, including Russia, visa-free travel for tourist purposes covered a shorter period of time, from May 1 to Sept. 30.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama had said at the time that Albania follows EU rules, and there had not been a uniform decision there. 

"Our decisions are in line with the decisions of the European Union. There is no aligned decision of the European Union and as long as there is no decision, we are continuing on the same path as in previous years. In case there will be an aligned decision, we will align with the European Union," Prime Minister Rama said a year ago when quizzed by journalists as to why the Russians were given preferential treatment for tourism purposes. 

However, a few months later, the European Union decided to suspend the 2007 agreement with the Russian Federation, which provided facilities for the travel of Russian citizens in the territory of the member countries and in the Schengen areas.

Albania has supported Ukraine from the beginning, condemning Russian aggression, supporting sanctions against Moscow, and being the initiator with resolutions and strong positions against Russia, with the United States as a co-sponsor, in the United Nations Security Council. Albania has also provided military and food aid to Ukraine.

Albanian media reported U.S. officials had also requested that Albania end the visa waiver program. 

Before the war started, both Ukraine and Russia were growing sources of tourists for Albania, especially during the summer holidays. These were part of a trend of strong growth from Central and Eastern Europe in general.

Just a couple of weeks before the start of the war in Ukraine,  Russia's main air carrier for leisure travel, Nordwind Airlines, had said it would start operating direct flights from Moscow to Tirana. Nordwind service would be the first direct scheduled flights between Albania and Russia since the 1960s. However, Albania closed its airspace to all Russian airlines following the invasion of Ukraine -- part of EU policies -- so the air connection never materialized.

Albania has also been aggressively seeking bilateral agreements for visa waivers in recent years as it hopes to become a tourism hotspot.

Albania has notably reached a rare bilateral visa waiver for mainland China as well as opened the doors visa free for other massive population countries like India and Egypt.

Wealthy Arab countries in the Gulf are also a growing source of tourists. Albanians are now used to seeing new tourists from the Gulf roaming its tourist areas as direct flights from Tirana to UAE and other Gulf cities have made travel easier in both directions. 

In recent years, Albanian beaches are seeing an influx of central and eastern Europeans attracted by the country's natural beauty and affordable prices and tourists from other countries attracted to historical sites and the country’s rural areas.



Tirana Times
By Tirana Times April 24, 2023 13:15