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On Wednesday, another expert mission of the European Union will arrive in Moscow to monitor Russia’s fulfilment of the List of Joint Steps on the way to a visa-free regime. Russian President Vladimir Putin intends to raise a soonest introduction of the visa-free regime as a matter of principle at an upcoming Russia-EU summit due in Brussels in December, Ambassador-at-Large of the Russian Foreign Ministry Anvar Azimov told reporters on Tuesday. Russia accused the European Union of protracting the visa cancellation process for political reasons.
Since 2003 Moscow and Brussels have been seeking to agree on the cancellation of visas, the Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily reported. The European Union was not ready for such relations with Russia and found a compromising wording – a gradually easier visa regime. Moscow did not accept it, and in 2006 the sides signed an agreement over an easier visa regime.
However, the simplification of the visa regime is not a priority for Russia. The cancellation of the visas with the EU turned in its key foreign political project. Russian diplomats have drafted an agreement over the cancellation of the visa requirements for citizens of Russia and the EU states by the Russia-EU summit in Rostov-on-Don in June 2010. The draft agreement holds that citizens of one signatory can enter, depart, go in transit and stay on the territory of another signatory on the strength of the documents, which prove the identity, without visas for 90 days during each period of 180 days starting from the date of the first entry.
Brussels again turned out to be not ready to Russia’s initiative and offered to develop some kind of roadmap – the List of Joint Steps over the transition to the visa-free regime, the Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily recalled. The step-by-step plan was approved at the Russia-EU summit in Brussels in December 2011. The plan is technical and divided in four blocks of the measures, which are needed for the introduction of the freedom of movement. These blocks of measures include the security of the documents, counteraction to illegal migration, ensuring of public order and development of foreign ties.
The technical issues of the visa regime between Russia and the EU are settled by about 90%, Azimov said. The sides exchanged voluminous reports (350 pages from Russia and 250 pages from the European Union) over the situation with the progress to the visa-free regime. The EU expert mission visited Russia and inspected the situation with the issue of biometrical foreign travel passports. In general, the mission remained satisfied with the situation in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Novgorod and Vladimir. According to European officials, Russian passports with the biometrical data have a quite high degree of protection in order to secure the EU from a massive inflow of illegal migrants.
Moscow assumes that a Russia-EU summit due on December 21with the participation of Vladimir Putin will be decisive in terms of the EU readiness to reach concrete agreements. The EU stated frankly to the newspaper that the visas will not be cancelled soon.
Ambassador-at-Large Azimov has made a harsh statement towards the EU on Wednesday, the newspaper believes. Russia has several serious claims to Brussels ahead of a Russia-EU summit due in December, he said. These claims primarily concern the cancellation of the visas, which Moscow finds prioritized. According to the diplomat, the problem consists in some European countries dragging out intentionally the process of visa cancellation with Russia over the concerns for an influx of migrants, criminals and drugs. Moscow is convinced that there are no such threats.
Only 17 EU states are ready, ten countries are still undecided about an accelerated transition to the visa-free regime with Russia, Azimov said. “We are ready to wait for one more year. But if but by the end of 2013 there will be no breakthrough in the drafting of the agreement, Russia will draw its conclusions,” the ambassador warned.
To a question of the newspaper why Russia did not cancel visas with the EU states unilaterally as a gesture of good will, as Ukraine and Moldova did it, Azimov noted, “We support equal rights, the cancellation of visas can be only mutual. For us this variant (the unilateral cancellation of visas – Itar-Tass) would be detrimental. Let the EU cancel the visas, and we will ponder over this.”
The EU refuted the criticism from Moscow. Russia states that there are no technical problems, but from our point of view, this is not so, a diplomatic source in Brussels told the Kommersant daily. Russia has a serious problem with migrants, and it is becoming more acute. There are some claims to the work of the border services. There is a catastrophic problem with corruption that also embraces the security of documents. The EU has strong doubts that all this can be settled for a year, the diplomatic source said. The source believes that the process of visa cancellation between Russia and the EU is in the very beginning and it is premature to say about some deadlines.
Brussels noted that Russia and the EU could have substantially facilitated the current visa regime, as the relevant agreement is already almost finalized and only the question of service passports is not coordinated. Moscow insists that the holders of these passports, namely deputies, officials of the ministries, state corporations and several other agencies, should be completely relieved of visa formalities. Brussels opposes this step. Meanwhile, on Tuesday Anvar Azimov put it clearly that the question of service passports is a matter of principle for Moscow and the country will not refuse from its demands. “We will not cede to any longer,” he pledged.