Germany and France have issued a joint warning against a ban on tourist visas for Russians, saying such a step, advocated by other European Union member states, would be counter-productive.
The split on tourist visas will be at the heart of a meeting of the bloc's foreign ministers in Prague on Tuesday and Wednesday, as they discuss what further steps they can take to sanction Russia for its six-month old invasion of Ukraine.
Defence ministers meeting in Prague are likely to agree in principle on the less controversial step of organising joint military training missions for Ukrainian troops.
"While limiting contacts with regime representatives and authorities to areas of vital EU interest, we need to strategically fight for the 'hearts and minds' of the Russian population at least the segments not yet completely estranged from 'the West'," France and Germany said in the joint memo seen by Reuters.
The bloc's two leading countries argue for close scrutiny of visa applications for security risks, but believe visas should still be issued.
"We should not underestimate the transformative power of experiencing life in democratic systems at first-hand, especially for future generations," they said.
Others, including eastern and Nordic member states, argue strongly for a ban.
"It is very provocative to me that you see Russian men on European beaches in Southern Europe and at the same time Ukrainian men between 18 and 60 years cannot even leave their country but have to fight for their freedom," Denmark's Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod said last week.
"We think it is right that we together in Europe can limit and cut off tourists from Russia and it would send a clear message to (President) Putin."
An EU diplomat said on Monday that the foreign ministers might agree in principle on suspending a visa facilitation agreement with Russia, which would mean Russians face a more lengthy procedure and would pay 80 euros instead of 35 euros for EU visas.
Meanwhile, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said he hoped defence ministers would give him a green light to start working on an EU military training mission for Ukraine.Several EU countries have been training Ukrainian troops, mainly enabling them to operate weapons Western nations are delivering to Ukraine to help its fight against Russia's invasion.