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Will we see a change in visa regime with EU?

13:12, 25 марта 2013

A joint meeting concerning the future of trading and visa regimes will be held between Russian authorities and the European Commission in Moscow on March 21-22. The main question at hand, which has been in the works for years, is simplifying and later cancelling the visa regime. The Permanent Representative of Russia in EU, Vladimir Chizhov, says that such a document is “approved, coordinated and has been read through. The only problem remaining concerns business passports. The wording is still being adjusted”. Thus the document will not be signed during the upcoming meeting between Russian and EU authorities.

At the end of 2012 the cancelation of Schengen visas for Russian citizens sounded like a sealed deal. “Almost all the technical problems, concerning the visa free regime, are solved. Now it’s time for our European colleagues to make the political move,” said Vladimir Putin during a Russian-EU summit in Brussels. But then it turned out that the visa free regime, which was supposed to be of effect before the 2014 Olympics, can be implemented by the end of 2014 at best.

EU representatives noted that Moscow’s expectations for the visa free regime before the Olympics were “too unrealistic”. European diplomats actually decided not to give any dates, because the EU is against creating any artificial deadlines. The talks continue and the Russian MFA believes there’s still chance for big changes in the visa regime in the coming years. At the moment there are two documents in the works. The first one, which has been developed for the last seven years, deals with the overall cancellation of visas. The second one should simplify the current visa regime. The latter has been approved and coordinated much better. And there’s a chance that it will be signed during the next Russia-EU summit, which will take place in May-June in Yekaterinburg, just in time for the Sochi Olympics.

The agreement concerning the simplification of the visa regime will affect government authorities, journalists, businessmen, scientists, NGO representatives and also holders of biometric special passports. The document has been ready for almost a year, yet it hasn’t been signed due to one item being up to debate. Russia wanted a complete visa free regime for special passport holders. Europe didn’t want that and offered to sign the general agreement, leaving the special passports issue for another time. According to EU press-secretary in Moscow, the European Union issues about six million visas to Russian citizens every year. Some EU members and Germany in particular, were against Russian demands, because there are about 120 thousand special passport holders, and some of them are military personnel. Also, Europeans had doubts that the issuing procedure for these passports in Russia was made by the books. According to official data, the MFA issues them to Presidential Administration staff, the Federation Council apparatus, State Duma, government officials, and to members of Constitutional and Supreme courts. The negotiations resulted in Russia cutting down the number of special passports to 15 thousand, and excluding military personnel from the holders. In return, Germany agreed to receive the remaining special passport holders.

According to Kommersant’s diplomatic source, Germany made the step towards Russia after the government officials had a chance to talk to business representatives and tour operators, who think that the simplification of the visa regime will give a good boost to the economy and tourism alike. It’s possible that the decision to better Moscow-Berlin relations has to do with winning some votes for the ruling party in the upcoming election that will happen later this year. Yet experts say that the true cause for this consensus was Germany’s hopes that the simplified visa regime will stop Russia from forcing a full cancellation of visas.

At the end of March representatives of the Consulate Department of the Russian MFA will go to Brussels in order to set the record straight, initial and then ratify this document. In return, EU will send an Expert Committee to Moscow in the beginning of April (8.04-12.04) in order to study our migration flows. Control over illegal migration is one of the key aspects that Russia has to deal with before any negotiations about the visa free regime can start. The European Commission expects a detailed description of territories that will be available as visa free zones. It also requires the ongoing exchange of information on migration policies between participants of the treaty. Brussels is concerned that after the cancelation of visas, which Russia so desperately wants, vast masses of people from Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tadzhikistan, living in Moscow for the moment, will come to Europe.

There are several important steps, which should be taken on the road towards a visa free regime, and they are posted on official sites of the EU and the Russian MFA. First of all, it’s the introduction of biometric passports, which can work in the European system. Also in this block is the question of quickly adding information to the Interpol database about lost documents. Another important issue is the illegal migration, which we have already mentioned. The third block of information has to do with improvement of border control, faster information exchange about trespassers, effective counter-terrorist measures on the border. The last block suggests that Russian and European citizens should have equal rights for traveling. When all four blocks are worked through, the participants can start negotiations about the cancellation of visas between Russia and EU.

It seems that Russia might already be working on some of the mentioned questions. But the information is very contradictory. For instance, Anvar Azimov, Ambassador of the Russian MFA, said in an interview on Dozhd, that by 2015 the government is planning to introduce visas for Uzbekistan and Tadzhikistan citizens. And on the next day many information agencies quoted him saying that Russia cherishes the relations it has with CIS countries and that no visa formalities are planned for members of the commonwealth.

Yet last year the Russian president ordered that by 2015 all people coming from CIS countries use their international passports instead of domestic ones. Still, the customs union and the common economic space will keep their current regimes, simplifying border-crossing for member countries. By the way, the document about CIS members using international passports in order to enter Russia is already in the State Duma. After that some information leaked in the media about a full scale visa regime between CIS countries. The Federal Migration Service is also ready to revise the current visa free regime, based on multilateral agreements. A representative at FMS said that such a revision is needed, “yet it’s a very complex matter”.

Russian diplomats are sure that by the end of 2013 they will be able to work out all the questions and problems which stand in the way of a visa free regime with EU. After that it will be possible to start the negotiations. If the talks go smoothly, we can hope for the document to be signed by late 2014. Yet Europeans do not see a speedy cancellation of visas between Russia and EU at least in the next five years.

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