The Albanian government excluded Russia from facilitating visa-free travel for tourist purposes, unlike what it did a year ago. The decision comes after measures taken by the European Union due to Russian aggression in Ukraine. Last year Albania was visited by more than 31 thousand Russian tourists, while in the period January – March their number is about 3 thousand, twice more than the same period a year ago. According to the Albanian Tourist Union, the return of the visa regime for Russian tourists will not have a significant impact on the progress of the tourist season due to the small share of this market in Albania.
This year, Albania did not ease the entry procedures for Russian citizens for tourist purposes. On the eve of the opening of the tourist season, the Council of Ministers adopted a decision that allows visa-free entry to Albania to citizens from five different countries, excluding Russia.
According to this Decision of the Council of Ministers, citizens who will be allowed to enter without visas from April 20 to December 31 of this year are those from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and Thailand.
In addition to Russia, compared to a year ago, Albania has decided to restore the visa regime for citizens from Egypt and India.
In 2022, the aforementioned countries were included in the list of 8 countries that could enter Albania without visas. However, the visa-free facilitation period for Russia and Egypt was more limited compared to the other six countries, focused on the period May – September 2022.
Source: Council of Ministers
Russians were required no visas to enter Albania in the year Russia started its aggression against Ukraine
“Our decisions are aligned with those of the European Union. There is no aligned decision of the EU and as long as there is no aligned decision of the European Union we have simply continued on the same path as in the past years. In the event that there will be an aligned decision, we will immediately align with the European Union.”, Prime Minister Edi Rama declared a year ago, arguing the decision that opened the way for Russian citizens to enter Albania without visas for tourist purposes, only two months after Russia had attacked Ukraine.
This way, Rama left open the possibility of excluding Russia from the list of countries whose citizens enter Albania without a visa for tourist purposes, throwing the ball into the court of the European Union, which came out a few months later with a decision for Russia.
At the end of last summer, the European Union decided to suspend the 2007 agreement with Russia, which facilitated Russians’ travel to the EU member countries and Schengen area countries. This time the ball fell in our court…
In 2023 Albania aligns with the EU
The EU has completely suspended visa facilitation with Russia and adopted clear sets of guidelines to support member states to de-prioritize visas for Russians and focus on security and border controls.
The alignment of the visa policy with the EU is crucial for the smooth functioning of the visa-free regime of these partners with the EU, an EU spokesperson told Faktoje in a written response, adding that this is particularly important for Russia: following its unjustified occupation of Ukraine.
The Commission takes into account Albania’s recent decision to limit the list of third-country nationals who have visa-free access to its territory, during the tourist season, but emphasizes that Albania should further align the list of these countries with that of the EU.
“It is important that Albania aligns its decisions further with the list of countries that require a visa to enter the EU. This is highlighted in the annual reports in the framework the visa suspension mechanism, in the Enlargement reports and is repeated in numerous meetings between the Commission and the Albanian authorities.”, the spokesperson of the European Union claims for Faktoje.
The decision triggers Russia’s “anger” towards official Tirana
The decision of the Albanian government was also reflected on the Facebook account of the Russian Embassy in Tirana on, informing the citizens of the Russian Federation that their country has been excluded from the list of countries that can travel without a visa from May 1 to September 30.
The post of the Russian embassy in Tirana, April 21, 2023
On the same day, the Ukrainian Embassy in Tirana welcomed the Albanian government’s decision to cancel the tourist visa-free regime for Russian citizens.
“On April 20, the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Albania decided to exclude Russia from the list of countries whose citizens enjoy the right to travel without visas for tourist purposes for the period from April 20 to December 31. We are grateful to our Albanian friends for their solidarity and support of Ukraine in the fight against the Russian invaders.”, says the Ukrainian Embassy in Tirana on its Facebook account.
Post of the Ukrainian Embassy in Tirana, April 21, 2023
However, the gratitude of the Ukrainian embassy in Tirana towards the Albanian authorities was not well received by the Russian Embassy in Tirana. In a special reaction in this case, the Russian Embassy qualifies the comment of the Ukrainian embassy as malicious and politicized, demanding the reaction of the Albanian authorities to ‘ # non-diplomatic and #provocative actions ‘.
“As explained to us in the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs of Albania, the decision of the Council of Ministers to correct the list of countries whose citizens will not be able to enter Albania from May 1 to September 30 without visas for tourist purposes, was conditioned by reasons and circumstances different from those that the Ukrainian diplomatic mission is trying to impose on the public opinion. Other countries that have nothing to do with the Ukrainian crisis were not included in this list,” says, among other things, the reaction of the Russian embassy in Tirana on April 22.
The post of the Russian Embassy in Tirana, April 22, 2023
However, the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs rejects this claim raised by the Russian embassy in Tirana. In response to a request for information, the Foreign Ministry told Faktoje that the decision of the Albanian government is in line with the Council of the EU, in view of the situation of aggression against Ukraine.
“The decision not to renew the visa regime with Russia for the tourist season comes within the framework of the alignment of the Republic of Albania with the decisions of the EU Council, in relation to the situation of aggression against Ukraine/destabilization of Ukraine,” argues in an official response for Faktoje, the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, while recalling that the decision to ease the procedures for the tourist season is an annual practice, which aims to attract foreign tourists.
Meanwhile, the decision of the Albanian government was also reflected on the official website of the Albanian Embassy in the Russian Federation.
‘To visit the Republic of Albania it is necessary to apply for a visa in accordance with the purpose of the trip.’, the Albanian Embassy in Moscow announced on the front page, calling the announcement “extremely urgent”.
The post of the Albanian Embassy in Russia
What is the share of Russians in Albanian tourism?
Referring to the data that Faktoje processed from the Institute of Statistics, in the last five years Albania has been visited by 131,710 citizens from the Russian Federation. At the end of 2022, 31,584 Russian citizens entered Albania, out of 7.5 million foreign citizens who entered in total.
While this year, the data of the first quarter show that 2,992 Russian citizens entered Albania by land and air, or double the same period of the previous year.
Based on these data, due to the low weight of this market in Albania, Rrahman Kasa from the Albanian Tourist Union says that the decision will not affect the tourist season this year.
“The average number of Russian tourists coming to Albania pwr year is about 30,000, an insignificant figure compared to the total number of foreign tourists visiting Albania. It is not that there is any great expectation from this market. It is the Ukrainian market that matters to us. Albania follows the EU recommendations for the visa regime with Russia and I think that our policy should go in the European direction.” – emphasizes Kasa for Faktoje.
The temporary easing of procedures for tourists visiting Albania from specific countries is a tradition of several years.
- *This article was produced as part of the regional initiative the Center Against Disinformation of the Western Balkans