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MOSCOW, December 21 (Itar-Tass) —— Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov hopes that Russia will be able to start negotiations with the European Union shortly on the abolition of visas for short-term trips.
“The President of Russia has suggested creating a common economic and human space from the Atlantic to the Pacific,” Lavrov said in an interview with the Euronews television channel on Thursday, December 20.
“Speaking of the human dimension of this space, it is important to move as soon as possible towards visa-free travel,” he added.
“A year ago we approved the list of joint steps that both sides need to take, including biometric passports, better border control, and readmission agreements. All this is being done now. We visit EU countries and the president of the European Commission visits our country to see how the list of joint steps is being fulfilled,” the minister said.
“I hope that we will be able to tell each other shortly that all steps have been taken and we can move on to talks on an agreement that will abolish visas for short-term trips by our citizens,” Lavrov said.
The agreement on visa facilitation between Russia and the EU was signed in 2006. Since then all of the Balkan countries have been granted visa-free travel for short trips. However now that the flow of illegal migrants to Europe from these countries and through them has reached such a scale that some of the Schengen zone member states have raised the question of suspending visa free travel with some of them.
Romano Prodi, who chaired the European Commission in 2002-2003, said that visa free travel between Russia and the EU should be introduced in 2008. However this was said before the European Union’s largest enlargement in 2004 when it admitted ten East European countries at once, thus starting a deep institutional crisis in Europe.
The schedule of transition to visa-free travel between Russia and the European Union remains unchanged, Russia’s Permanent Representative to the EU Vladimir Chizhov said earlier.
“Over the last several months the sides have exchanged mutual reports. Their review is drawing to an end, after which senior officials will meet again to clarify remaining questions and work will continue further,” he said.
He warned against attempts to set artificial deadlines, saying that “there is nothing more harmful for the talks”.
Chizhov believes that a “natural deadline” would be the Olympic Games in Sochi. “There are chances [to move on to visa-free travel]. But it takes not only technical work we are doing together but also the political will which our partners unfortunately lack sometimes,” he said.
“I would like to have a schedule of transition to visa-free travel, but there are no time limits there. I can only say that it will take months, not years, to implement the plan,” Chizhov said.
“After the joint steps have been taken... negotiations should begin on the agreement on the transition to visa-free travel,” the diplomat said.
He stressed that visa-free travel for short-term trips is “not a gift from the European Union”.
“Every year 2.5 million Russians want to travel to the EU and 1.5 million from the EU to Russia. Although these numbers are not equal they are quite comparable,” Chizhov said.
At the same time, Chizhov declined to say when visa-free travel regulations could be put in place.