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Russia, EU not to agree on visa-free regime for Sochi Olympics

March 13, 2013, 11:42 UTC+3

Now Moscow expects for the abolition of the visa regime at least by the end of 2014

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Russian Foreign Ministry’s Ambassador at Large Anvar Azimov admitted on Tuesday that Russia and the European Union will not be able to complete the decade-long process of negotiations on a visa-free regime with the EU for the Winter Olympics in Sochi. New dates have already been named – Moscow expects for the abolition of the visa regime at least by the end of 2014.

Earlier this week, an EU delegation led by European Union’s chief negotiator on the visa dialogue with Russia Stefano Manservisi was in Moscow, the Novye Izvestia daily writes. After negotiation with him, Russian Foreign Ministry’s Ambassador at Large Anvar Azimov told reporters the news one of which may disappoint those who call for the quick introduction of a visa-free regime with Europe, the other new is not good, but a little encouraging. According to Azimov, there will be no much-heralded gift for the Winter Olympics. By February, when this sports events begins in Sochi, Russia and the EU will not be able to come to terms on a visa-free regime. Azimov expressed the wish that the two sides will be able to agree on the corresponding agreement, as he put it, “at least by the end of 2014.” However, according to him, there is clear progress on the most controversial point of the negotiations with the EU – concerning the abolition of visas for holders of official passports. “In late March, our colleagues from the Consular Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry will travel to Brussels in order to finally set the record straight,” Azimov said. He said that the chances for reaching an agreement with the EU on a visa-free regime for holders of official passports are “favourable.”

If it is so, it could mean in principle that the abolition of the visa regime for the other categories of Russian citizens is not far off, the publication says. The fact is that, as a rule, the visa regime between two states is cancelled in several stages. First, concessions are made for the most trustworthy, in the view of the migration services, categories of the population – diplomats. The holders of service passports come next. And only after that the visa regime is cancelled the rest of the citizens.

The main thing that the EU does not like about Russian service passport holders is their multitude. About 150 thousand people have such passports. This cannot be compared with either Moldova or Ukraine, as each of these countries has tens, not hundreds of thousands of holders of official passports. This difference is explained by Russia’s specifics. The largest category of owners of official passports in Russia is military personnel serving in the CIS countries. There are more than 80 thousand such people. Plus the number of holders of official passports in the category that is very unusual for Europeans – the many thousand-strong army of employees of state-run companies. “It is necessary to reduce the number of issued official passports to some reasonable limit,” Mr. Manservisi said.

Moscow has offered its own – compromise variant on this point of the negotiations: to allow visa-free entry to the EU only to the holders of biometric official passports. The number of such passports held by citizens in relatively small – around 15 thousand.

The Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper recalls that the dialogue on the visa-free regimen was started between Russia and the EU in 2007. However, before 2010, according to Azimov, the dialogue had only one goal – to exchange views. The “test period” has come now. Within the framework of this period the EU not only inspects Russia, but Russia also sends to Europe the so-called ‘export missions.’ “During this period we have received two export missions,” Azimov said. “There were about 40 meetings during each mission. The conclusion of our partners was positive. The EU gave us the rating of 4 from possible 5 points. We have a lot to show, and the EU has a lot to learn from us.” However, despite this, the diplomat said that Russia has weak points, and it is currently engaged in “the corrections of mistakes.”

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