MOSCOW, June 4 (Itar-Tass) - On Monday, the Russia - EU summit opened in Yekaterinburg. The main subjects for discussion of the European leaders are the Syrian issue, the energy situation, trade and economic relations and the problem of the abolition of visas. However, on the eve of the summit opening it became known that the announced agreement on the visa regime simplification will not be signed. The parties failed to agree on the status of the holders of service passports.
The main obstacle to the adoption of specific measures by the EU was the problem of official passports, the Vedomosti newspaper writes. The European officials did not like Russia’s demand to include in the number of those who fall under the visa facilitation agreement the holders of service passports. In March, Germany softened its stance on the “blue passports,” and after that several more countries revised their approach to this subject. After that the parties announced that a compromise was found. Moscow is ready to withdraw from the agreement on visa facilitation with the EU three categories of holders of official passports, Russian Foreign Ministry’s Ambassador at Large Anvar Azimov said. Nevertheless, the EU put forward another condition: to limit the number of holders of such passports to 15,000 people, but even here the parties, as Asimov said, reached understanding. However, the signing of the agreement in Yekaterinburg is not planned.
Among the claims publicly put forward by the EU is its discontent by Russia’s intention to launch starting from July 1 an automated system for collecting personal data on all passengers who will pass through its territory.
The EU is traditionally unrelenting in negotiations, defending its interests, and the recent requirement of Russia to provide to it (the same as to the US) data on airline passengers, travelling from the EU to Russia or in transit through it, could not but lead to the toughening of the European position on other issues, political scientist Fyodor Lukyanov says.
There is another, equally important reason: the political atmosphere in relations between Russia and the EU is currently gloomy and the Europeans do not want to sign even a technical agreement in essence, which would be seen as a step towards Russia, which is actively criticised, said Lukyanov, the more so that the relationship with Russia is not a priority for the EU at present.
“A couple of months ago there was an improvement of the EU’s position owing to a change in the positions of some members of the EU, so the negotiation process was unlocked,” the Novye Izvestia newspaper quotes Russian Ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov. “First, we hoped to complete the coordination of the draft by the summit in Yekaterinburg, in order to sign the agreement there, but so far it is not realistic. The EU countries have some differences in views, and the time will be needed to hold additional negotiations.”
The work on the implementation of the “common steps” towards a visa-free regime for all citizens is also going slower than desired, the newspaper notes. Now the parties are at the stage of exchange of expert missions on four blocks of issues. Two blocks - on border control and migration - are already closed. The block on law enforcement and foreign relations remain. Chizhov also believes that there is a real opportunity to complete the implementation of the common steps by the end of the year: “Then the moment of truth for the EU will come: when their implementation is completed, Brussels will have to make a formal decision on the beginning of negotiations on a visa-free agreement. If everything goes smoothly, it may happen next year.”
According to RF presidential aide Yuri Ushakov, quoted by the Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper, Russia will once again offer Europe the transition to a simplified visa regime, but “it will not plead with anybody” for it.
Earlier, the Russian side informed that the agreement on the visa-free regime of 95 percent ready, but it has “stumbled” over the issue of official passports - the Europeans demand to significantly reduce their number. “We want to control who enters to us,” said a source of the newspaper in the European Parliament. “There is a danger that the Russians will organise a consulate for issuing such certificates in the Kremlin. And those who are unwanted in Europe would come there without a visa - the violators of human rights in Russia.” Europe also accuses the Russian side of the disruption of the negotiations on the visa facilitation regime easing for businessmen, students and journalists - according to the newspaper’s source, the Russian authorities have demanded to link this matter to the settlement of the issue of official passports.
The summit takes place amid deterioration of relations between Russia and the EU because of the possible introduction of sanctions there against a number of Russian officials who violate human rights, emphasises the Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper. Before the summit, Russian officials have tried to convince the public that “the Magnitsky list” issues are not on the agenda. This has caused bewilderment among European politicians. Clarity was introduced by the EU High Representative for Foreign Policy Catherine Ashton who said on Monday that the European Union at the summit would certainly raise the issue of closing “the Magnitsky case” - because of the absence of those responsible for his death, and will raise the problem of the law on non-profit organisations.
Russian officials have made it clear they do not consider the summit a good place for such discussions, because there are enough human rights violations also in the EU.