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Moscow worried by EU actions that delay visa-free travel with Russia

December 19, 2013, 0:39 UTC+3 MOSCOW
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MOSCOW, December 18, 21:55 /ITAR-TASS/. Moscow is worried by the European Union’s actions that delay the introduction of a visa-free travel regime with Russia, Ambassador at Large Anvar Azimov said.

“The European Commission’s report on the implementation by Russia of ‘joint steps’ is in striking contrast to the Russian report presented to the EU a month ago. In its report Russia states that the work to implement ‘joint steps’ has largely been completed and this can be declared at the upcoming Russia-EU summit in late January of next year,” Azimov, who is the senior official in charge of visa-free dialogue with EU, told ITAR-TASS on Wednesday, December 18.

“The overwhelming majority of practical steps contained in the ‘joint steps’ have either been implemented or are being implemented by the sides, all the more so that they are long-term in nature and are designed to be stretched in time,” he said.

He noted that the numerous recommendations and proposals contained in experts’ reports on both sides are also long-term in nature and are not “critical.” “They are unlikely to be implemented by the parties in full in the near future, especially those that require changes in the legal framework both in the European Union and Russia,” Azimov said.

“Russia would like to find the most significant and enforceable ‘joint steps’ and single them out in the total mass of EU experts’ conclusions. Russia suggests starting joint work to implement the recommendations issued by the sides, however taking into account the fact that negotiations will be launched in parallel early next year to draft an agreement on the abolition of visas,” the diplomat said.

He noted that the European Commission experts’ report indicates that the European Union aims to “delay the dialogue on visa-free travel indefinitely.” “We must remember that our dialogue has been on for more than seven years. We think that the European Union should be equally interested in the abolition of visas. This is not about some political concessions on the part of Russia, but about a mutually advantageous process for our people and states,” he said.

“We cannot understand the European Union’s policy of artificial containment of Russia. It essentially runs counter to our joint agreements. So the strategic goal set by our leaders in 2003 to abolish the visa regime remains unattained, and the ongoing visa-free travel dialogue unfortunately has so far not brought about any breakthrough even though we never expected it,” Azimov said.

“We expected the European Commission experts’ report to be more constructive. However they chose to continue long-term work to implement ‘joint steps.’ We disagree with this approach and think that we should move on to the next stage in order to go forward,” he said, referring to the start of talks on a visa-free travel agreement. “The ball is in the EU’s court. In principle, we are prepared to wait for our partners to ‘get ripe,’ but at the same time we are worried by the EU policy which basically delays the introduction of a visa-free regime,” the diplomat said.

It’s the European Union’s turn to make a decision on visa-free travel with Russia, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after a meeting with his EU colleagues in Brussels on December 16.

“There are several issues on our agenda we need to get off the ground. Our priority is the dialogue on visa-free travel, which has been on for more than eight years,” the minister said.

“In recent years, it has acquired concrete outlines: a list of joint steps has been agreed, which we and our European partners should take in order to ensure the security of travel documents and strict control on the border so that our citizens could visit each other calmly and safely,” Lavrov said, adding, “It’s the European Union’s turn to act.”

“We are convinced, and we can advise our leaders to make an announcement, that it’s time we started drafting an agreement on visa-free travel for short trips by Russian citizens and citizens of the EU countries that are members of the Schengen Area,” Lavrov said.

He said Russia had provided the European Commission with a report on the implementation of “joint steps” as part of the efforts to facilitate the visa regime. “Our partners promised to send us their report in the near future,” he added.

Lavrov earlier urged the ambassadors of 28 EU countries to speed up the transition to visa-free travel.

Russia is ready to abolish visas for EU citizens and it is now the European Union’s turn to act, he said.

“Facilitating mutual trips for our citizens as much as possible is a pressing task. They should have an opportunity to travel freely and unhindered. In this case dialogue between our civil societies and contacts between people would be much more intensive,” the minister said.

“We are prepared for that. Now it's the turn of our partners in the European Union to act. I am convinced that people are on our side,” Lavrov said.

“Everyone should take an unbiased look at what hinders further advancement of future-oriented bilateral relations and give up outdated ideological stereotypes and dogmas, prejudiced assessments and far-fetched claims,” he said.

Lavrov assured the audience that Russia sincerely wished the European Union success and prosperity. “We are interested in our own development and the EU is our largest partner in investment and cultural cooperation,” the minister said, adding that Moscow would like to have even more intensive ties with the EU.

The EU and Russia are negotiating the possibility of a visa-free regime in the future. For this purpose the “Common steps towards visa free short-term travel of Russian and EU citizens” were agreed at the EU-Russia Summit in December 2011.

These “steps” are a kind of “roadmap” and foresee detailed work resulting in concrete actions in four blocks:

1. Document security, including biometrics,

2. Illegal migration, including readmission,

3. Public order, security and judicial cooperation,

4. External relations.

There is no target date or automaticity for the visa free-regime to begin, but an open-ended dialogue, guided by senior officials from both EU and Russia to review progress on the “Common Steps” and examine how the long-term aim of visa free travel can be achieved in practice. A number of expert meetings are in progress and the work is proceeding according to the schedule.

Travelling between the EU and Russia was made easier in 2007 when the EU-Russia Visa Facilitation Agreement entered into force. This agreement lowered the visa fee, made obtaining multiple-entry visas easier, simplified the list of supporting documents required, and waived visas for diplomats. A joint EU-Russia committee oversees the proper functioning of the agreement.

To make travelling even easier the EU and Russia are negotiating amendments to the existing agreement. The aim is to sign an Updated Visa Facilitation Agreement that will further facilitate travelling of citizens by providing a multi-year and multi-entry visa to more categories of ordinary and frequent travellers.

The EU and Russia have also signed the Readmission Agreement that entered into force in 2007 and establishes the principles and procedures for the transfer of persons, who have been found to enter, stay or reside illegally in the territory of the EU or Russia.

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