"We need visa-free traveling"
There can be no true partnership between Russia and the EU without the abolishment of the current visa regime, President Vladimir Putin underlines to EU leaders.
Meeting with Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council, and José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, in Sankt Petersburg on Sunday, Putin quickly put the visa issue on the agenda.
In his opening speech at the summit, the Russian president stressed that “there can be no true partnership between Russia and the EU as long as the current visa barriers exist,” newspaper Vedomosti reports.
Putin later added that the visa issue “is not so important from the political perspective as from the perspective of economic and humanitarian concerns”. He underlined that “contacts between people, their joint projects within the fields of business, science, culture – this is the most reliable basis for our partnership,” a transcript from the meeting posted on the Kremlin's website reads.
The talks in Sankt Petersburg are part of the Russia-EU summit held 2-3 June. From the EU side, also Catherine Ashton, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger take part. Russia is represented by President Vladimir Putin, accompanied by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and several other ministers.
The bid for a visa-free regime with the EU has been a top Russian priority for years. As previously reported, the issue was given a high focus also in the foreign policy decree made by Putin after his inauguration on April 3.
Commenting on the visa issue in an interview with Rossiiskaya Gazeta ahead of the summit, EC President Barroso said that “a significant progress is made on the issue” and that the Union’s ulitimate objective remains “a full abolishment of the visa regime.”
Russia and the EU in December 2011 formally approved a list of conditions for the introduction of a visa-free regime.
In addition to the discussions on a fully-fledged visa-free regime, people from both sides of the border are getting new opportunities for facilitated border crossing. A local visa-free zone was established in the Norwegian-Russian border areas in late May this year, and another and far bigger similar zone will soon come info force in the border areas between Russia (Kaliningrad) and Poland.
Read more about European East-West visa issues and cross-border cooperation in the Barents Review, a publication by the Norwegian Barents Secretariat.