Almost 40 years ago, in 1975 when all European countries, including Russia, then the Soviet Union, and other states that are now part of the EU signed the famous Helsinki Final Act, and thus explicitly recognized the importance of free movement and contacts among their citizens for protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms. They also committed themselves to “gradually simplify and to administer flexibly the procedures for exit and entry”, and to “consider possibilities for reciprocal abolition of entry visas on the basis of agreements between them”. The Parties reaffirmed these commitments in the relevant OSCE fora focused on human dimension in Madrid in 1983, Vienna in 1989, Copenhagen and Paris in 1990, Moscow in 1991, Budapest in 1994, Ljubljana in 2005, Warsaw in 2011.
Unfortunately the implementation and promotion of the principle of freedom of movement in Europe turned out to be a much more complicated job than it had seemed four decades ago. The crucial political changes of the 1990’s which gave birth to great expectations paving the way to more open and transparent world, especially on the European continent, resulted in fact in reshaping geographical borders of many European countries, but have not changed the mentality of West-East counterbalance. Today, even if unseen, dividing lines are still here. In Europe we witness a situation when there are two visa-free spaces confronting each other – one of the Schengen area, the other of the CIS, and our efforts to demolish down the wall between them aimed at creating a new freer mobility space as dreamed by the OSCE founding fathers, are too far from being completed.
Russia was the first CIS country that managed to “break the ice” starting a visa dialogue with the EU. Since then the Russia-EU free movement agenda has shown some practical results, but has not yet achieved its final goal – the abolition of visas.