Officials are committed to working towards visa free travel between Russia and Europe, it has been confirmed. Although there is a daunting amount of work is necessary to achieve the goal an European initiative to lift travel restrictions could be put into practice in a relatively short period of time, according to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov who has been in talks with new EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
‘We are ready to introduce visa free travel with Europe,’ said Lavrov after a meeting with Ashton but he did not give a date but said it would be sooner rather than later. But Ashton said there was still ‘a substantial amount of work to be done’ although Brussels is committed to the goal.
Spain, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, announced last month that the EU would start a process to ultimately lift visa requirements. But similar attempts have yielded few results in the past, mainly because of technical difficulties and fears among EU members of a mass influx of refugees.
Migration rules are stringent on both sides, although Russians must undergo interviews and demonstrate that they have sufficient funds for travel before obtaining visas to the EU’s border free Schengen zone. Europeans wishing to travel to Russia are spared those procedures but face stiff bureaucracy, having to register and deregister if they spend three or more working days at any place in the country.
Asked if registration rules might be eased during visa negotiations, Lavrov denied that the rules posed a bureaucratic burden. ‘There is no registration requirement. There is a notification requirement that involves no permits. You fill out a simple form and send it stamped by post to the nearest migration service office. If you stay in a hotel, you do not have to do anything,’ he claimed.
Yet the registration process, which is the bane of foreign visitors, has been further complicated with the introduction of a fee in late January. A registration now costs 2 rubles for each day of the visit, with a ceiling at 200 rubles ($6.50). ‘You must present a receipt from Sberbank showing that you have paid the fee,’ said Alexei Filipenkov of the Visa Delight agency.
Negotiations are expected in the run up to the next EU/Russia summit which is scheduled to be held in Rostov-on-Don in May.