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WARSAW, December 12 (Itar-Tass) — Visa-free travel for the residents of Russia’s westernmost Kaliningrad region will help boost cooperation between Europe and Russia, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said.
Sikorski plans to visit Moscow this week to sign a Polish-Russian inter-governmental agreement on local cross-border movement on December 14.
“It is in the interests of Poland that the Kaliningrad region to become a gateway to Russia for the EU and a trade gateway to stronger ties with the European Union for Russia,” the minister said in Brussels on Monday, December 12.
He said documents will issued and consular divisions prepared quickly so as to make visa-free travel possible already during the next tourist season.
An agreement amending regulations and allowing such travel will be signed at the nearest meeting of the EU Council of Ministers, he said.
The work on the agreement has been in progress since 2008. The main difficulty is that the EU rules require the border-lying territory to be no more than 30 kilometres.
“If we had agreed to such terms, the people living in the north and south of the Kaliningrad region would have been put at a disadvantage. In order to find a way out of this situation we, in cooperation with our Polish partners, pressed for amendments to the relevant EU regulations,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with Marshall of the Senate of Poland Bogdan Borusevic in Moscow earlier this year to discuss the visa issue in the context of the upcoming Polish presidency in the European Union.
Lavrov and Borusevic exchanged views on a wide range of issues concerning Russian-Polish relations and “stated with satisfaction their constructive development in many areas, including positive dynamics of inter-parliamentary ties, public, youth, cultural and humanitarian contacts,” the Foreign Ministry said.
They praised the work of the Forum of Regions under the auspices of the upper houses of the Russian and Polish parliaments, the third meeting of which is taking place in Moscow and research centres outside the Russian capital, focusing on regional cooperation in the fields of innovations and high technologies.
The visa facilitation process between Russia and the European Union can be delayed by its opponents, Russian MP Konstantin Kosachev, who chaired the Foreign Affairs Committee ion the previous Duma, said.
In his opinion, the visa regime can be simplified technically in the very near future.
“Necessary technical questions can be solved within a year or two,” Kosachev said.
“The parliamentarians have full agreement on the issue of visa-free travel between the Kaliningrad region and the neighbouring provinces of Poland, and an understanding of how this issue should be solved,” he said after a meeting with his German and Polish colleagues in late February.
He said there are plans to make visa-free travel to neighbouring Polish provinces available for all residents of the Kaliningrad region, but “the problem is that the practical solution is hindered by the internal regulations of the European Union. There are no problems on the Russian side”.
The European Union's Common Code on Visas, also known as the Visa Code, entered into force in April of 2010.
The agreement between the EU and Russia on simplified visa procedures, which became effective on June 1, 2007, remains in force and guarantees better visa terms to Russians travelling to Europe than citizens of third countries have, including a fixed visa fee of 35 euros, the EU Delegation to Russia said earlier.
The agreement between he EU and Russia on the facilitation of issuance of visas applies symmetrically to Russians travelling to the EU and to EU citizens travelling to Russia.
In addition to the fixed visa fee, it simplifies the list of the required documents, reduces the period of time during which a visa application should be considered from 15 to 10 days, and cancels the visa fee for a broad circle of people.
The agreement constitutes a waiver from the Visa Code adopted by the European Parliament and the EU Council in June 2009.
In early September 2010, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said visa-free travel for the residents of Russia's Kaliningrad region could be possible.
The European Union is actively discussing this issue, and things can start moving in the positive direction, Merkel said.
However some regulations have to be changed first and some legal norms amended under the Schengen Agreement, she said.
Merkel said she had discussed visa-free travel with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and she did not consider it unreal, but believes that the partners will have to “travel a long way”.
Visa-free travel between Russia and the European Union remains an unconditional priority for Moscow, a Kremlin official said earlier.
Despite the decisions of some European countries to issue Schengen visas to Russian citizens for five years, “a visa-free regime is undoubtedly our priority,” he said.
“This is one of the areas for our permanent working dialogue with the European Union,” the official said.