Speaking to the Association of European Businesses (AEB) in Moscow on Monday, Sergey Lavrov pointed to the current visa demand when singling out the current most important barrier between Russia and the European Union.
“Easing or canceling visa regulations is critical for boosting economic cooperation with the European Union, which remains the No. 1 trade partner for Russia,” Sergey Lavrov said. The transcript of his speech is posted on the Foreign Ministry’s portal.
Lavrov added that EU is Russia’s largest trade partner, accounting for more than half of the country’s foreign trade.
“Last year we went to the pre-crisis level in terms of trade - it is nearly $ 400 billion, about 80 percent of accumulated foreign investment in the Russian economy comes from the European Union.”
It is therefore not understandable for Moscow why visa-freedom can’t be introduced in order to ease businesses and people-to-people contacts between the two partners.
“Purely political approach” Lavrov said he believes the lack of progress in the visa waiver with the EU is “a purely political approach.” He continued: “Due to the solidarity principle adopted in the EU, or rather due to the distorted interpretation of solidarity, there is an opinion that it is politically unacceptable to offer Russia a visa-free regime prior to offering it to member states of the Eastern Partnership.”
EU’s Eastern Partnership includes the six former Soviet republics: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.
“All up to Brussels” At last year’s Barents Council meeting in Kiruna, Sweden, Sergey Lavrov told BarentsObserver “It is all up to Brussels now” when asked about possible further Russian steps to ease the visa regime for Norwegians in the Barents Region. In 2010, Norway introduced the so-called Pomor-visa opening for up to 5-years valid multiple-entry visa without invitation for citizens of Murmansk and Arkhangelsk regions.
Norway is not a European member state, but is a member of the Schengen regime.
After introducing Pomor-visa two years ago, the number of border-crossings between Russia and Norway in the north has sky-rocket, boosting both business and people-to-people contact. Norway’s border to Russia is the northernmost land border between a Schengen member and Russia. Last spring, Norway also became the first Schengen member state with a visa-free travel deal with Russia for residents living within a 30 kilometer area on each side of the border.
“No more obstacles” At the EBA meeting in Moscow this Monday Sergey Lavrov said: “There are no more obstacles left for signing “a simple and comprehensive agreement” on visa-free short-term trips for the citizens of Russia and the Schengen Zone.
The issue will also be on the top of the agenda when Russia’s Foreign Minister next week meets his EU colleagues in Luxembourg.