At a European Union-Russian summit in Rostov at the beginning of June, EU leaders did not make any promises on the easing of visa requirements for Russian travellers. In spite of this Moscow is still continuing to strive for changes, initially at the visa issuing stage, in a reciprocal arrabgenebt, for short term visits. Russians point out that it would be similar to the procedures in place between the EU and some Balkan countries and which the EU is negotiating currently with Albania and Bosnia-Hertzegovina.
Vladimir Tšižov, the Russian permanent representative to the EU remarked that the EU should have no more concerns about Russian citizens than they now have about Balkan visitors. The Russians currently enjoy visa-free travel to all SRU, most Latin American countries and Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Hertzegovina, Isreal and Turkey.
In a joint communiqué, the summit did state progress in forming a partnership in modernizing the economy and community, more specifically increasing trade, mutual protection of intellectual rights, co-operation in space research and the fight against climate change – all non-controversial, ‘feel good’ aspects of international relations.
Needless to say, Russia’s disappointment must have been deep. Arriving at the summit the Russians handed a completed draft of a possible visa-free agreement to their EU counterparts. However the Europeans did not which to discuss it at length. Dmitri Panovkin of Rosblat commented that “The EU is in no hurry to grant any timetable for visa-free travel even if Russia fulfills all obligations that are demanded.” Vitali Dõmarski of the Russian government’s Rossiskaja Gazeta remarked that “EU probably toughened its requirements for Russia. But let me offer the example of Isreal. The granting of visa-free access for Russians to Israel was not accompanied by problems with the Russian maffia.” Dmitri Medvedev, on the other hand named the different EU-Russia interpretations of recent history, as being the underlying cause of denial for the time being of a visa free regime.
Other Russians see the visa question as EU pressure in forcing Russia to protect defence lawyers handling anti-government cases and to protect anti-government journalists – in other words forcing Russia to respect rule of law. Other Russians point to the absence of repatriation agreements (the sending of foreign nationals back to their home countries) with the EU and Russia’s weak southern border, a major weak link in the international drug trade, as being the major reasons for the EU not proceeding with the visa free agreement.
The chair of Estonia’s parliamentary foreign relations committee, Marko Mihkelson states: “I consider it unlikely the EU will strike a visa free agreement with a country that has left unsolved its border problems with a EU member state. (Estonia has ratified the border treaty while adding a clause to the preamble explaining the reality of Soviet agression and occupation. Russia, angered by this addition to a previously initialed treaty refused to ratify it and have nullified it. – ed.) Russia places visa free travel as its most urgent political question to be resolved with the EU, but is not willing to fulfill the technical obligations required in having visa free access to the visa-free Schengen treaty countries. The problematic partnership agreement with Russia has been a complicated two year experience. If president Medvedev names historical perspective as being a major hurdle in solving the visa free question, then that is diverting attention from the real reason – Russia’s failure to fulfill the requirements that the visa free situation requires. Estonia in principle supports a visa free rdegime. It’ll boost trade ties and personal contacts between people.”
Visa free travel for Russians to EU is not on, for now (1)