- We agree with the EU that a painless elimination of visa barriers requires putting in place appropriate conditions. That is exactly what the Common Steps towards a visa-free regime were developed for. Russia has been implementing its part of work in a timely and effective manner seeking to complete their implementation in the shortest time. Indeed, we consider the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games as a most natural time reference for concluding a visa waiver agreement. However, we need to take into account that the EU is reluctant to adopt any concrete time schedule. The first assessments of implementation of the Common Steps should be given at the Senior Officials meeting in late June this year. After that we will be able to speak of prospects for completing this work and starting negotiations on a visa waiver agreement.
- What exactly has the Russian side accomplished under the road map since it was signed at the Russia-EU summit in December 2011?
- The list of Common Steps towards visa-free travel is a comprehensive document. It does not lay down what we should start doing but rather what we should achieve in order to conclude a visa waiver agreement. We have been working on all blocks for a long time. They include introduction of biometrics, accession to a number of international conventions, cooperation between border services, law enforcement agencies and many other issues.
The 219-pages report we sent to Brussels on 13 April presents our state of affairs in these areas. The EU report was received on 1 June. Now we will examine it, identify problems, send our missions to problem countries and present recommendations to address deficiencies. Brussels will do the same with our report. Further actions will be defined by Senior Officials. Hopefully, it will happen in autumn.
As for risks of illegal migration, crimes and barriers for internal travel, they are all relevant both for Russia and the EU. Many risks are exaggerated. 75 per cent of illegal migrants, for example, enter the EU through the Greek-Turkish border. Most of them are Afghans and Pakistani. The Mediterranean route from North Africa (including people fleeing the Arab Spring) is on the second place. The Russian direction does not pose any serious threat to the EU.
As for internal travel, I can say that both the EU and we have certain complaints. Many Schengen countries, for instance, have overseas territories that can not be entered with a Schengen visa, referring to domestic legislation. We also have our domestic legislation that we refer to. EU Member States, as well as Russia, have their regulations for registration of foreign citizens. Sometimes they even put a stamp in the passport on entry in a country: "Appear to the police within 3 days". Russian consulates do not do this. By the way, these regulations do not run contrary to the Common Steps and do not pose an obstacle for visa waiver.
- Which countries oppose visa-free travel regime with Russia the most?
- The watershed between opponents and supporters lies not between the EU countries but rather within each of them. Visa waiver enjoys support first of all of business community, academia, artists and civil society. Opponents and those hesitant include politicians and bureaucrats from a number of EU Member States. We actively cooperate with our supporters in order to persuade those hesitant that our approach is the right one.
When speaking of visa-free regime, we mean its practical value. Visa waiver will have a positive effect on economic ties and eliminate visa barriers for the work of European business in Russia and that of Russian business in the EU, will give an impetus to development of foreign tourism in our country, intensify cultural ties and facilitate people-to-people contacts. Thus, visa waiver is a step that will have a positive effect on all our relations with the EU as a whole. Here I would like to emphasise that, in fact, both Russian and European citizens are interested in visa-free travel. While 2.5 million our citizens visit Schengen area countries every year, as many as 1.5 million Europeans come to visit Russia. So, it is a two-way street.