Yury Dzhibladze on official Russian reaction to visa-free travel for Ukrainian citizens to EU [Voice of America]

posted 25 May 2017, 02:51 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 25 May 2017, 03:10 ]
13 May 2017

Extract from: Данила Гальперович, 'Mосква раздражена решением ЕС отменить визы для граждан Украины,' Voice of America, 13 May 2017 [Danila Galperovich: ‘Moscow irritated by EU decision to extend visa-free travel to Ukrainian citizens’]

Photo: Charter 97

Russia had been involved in visa-free travel negotiations of its own, but those are now frozen 

Russian officials and politicians reacted with irritation to the decision of the Council of the European Union to cancel visa restrictions for Ukrainian citizens. Official responses in Russia were characterised by frustration as well as attempts to downplay the importance of the development in question.

In particular, deputy foreign minister Aleksei Meshkov stated that ‘the so-called visa-free regime is to some extent a “carrot dangling on a string” slightly relaxing the current system.’ According to Meshkov, under the visa-free regime Ukrainians will not be able to stay in Europe for long and will not receive permission to work. […]

Yury Dzhibladze: Russian officials sought a visa-free regime first and foremost for those with government service passports

Yury Dzhibladze, president of the Moscow-based Centre for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights, told Voice of America that civil society figures had worked with officials in trying to secure visa-free travel for Russian citizens. ‘A few years back, the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, in which I participate, actively promoted the idea of relaxing the visa regime between the EU and Russia, with the ultimate goal of visa-free travel in mind. Only that succeeded in generating official interest –namely, that of the foreign ministry – in the Forum. All other aspects of our extensive agenda failed to elicit the interest of the Russian authorities.’

‘However, the Russian government’s aim,’ continued the human rights advocate, ‘was always in relaxing the visa regime either only for, or first of all for, those holding government service passports [the passports of civil servants and members of the military serving overseas - trans.]. Our position, which the EU completely agreed with, was that the first people to receive the right to visa-free travel should be participants in youth exchanges, students, entrepreneurs, cultural figures, those travelling for medical reasons, civil society figures taking part in joint projects. But the Russian government insisted that it would only agree to reviewing the prospect of visa-free travel for said categories if all agreed to extending visa-free travel to government service passport holders.’

Dzhibladze explains: ‘This was not about those holding diplomatic passports. Service passports are held by officials in various ministries and federal and regional agencies, different government-related institutions and organisations… Moreover, as soon as the conversation turned to ordinary Russians, the interest of the government side quickly waned. Some degree of progress was achieved in the spring of 2012, when a tentative compromise was reached: if the EU granted a certain number of service passport holders the right to visa-free travel, then the Russian government would be prepared to agree to a relaxed visa regime for some categories of Russians. But we were not able to resolve issues relating to setting the parameters of these categories.’

‘A visa-free or relaxed visa regime is, first and foremost, an opportunity for person-to-person contact and rapprochement between societies. As such, a visa-free or relaxed visa regime should, first and foremost, be for society in general, not for officials or those in power. We tried to promote this idea in the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum when addressing such questions. It is clear that rapprochement between Ukraine and Europe, Georgia and Moldova and Europe has made Russian officials unhappy,’ concludes Yury Dzhibladze.

Translated by Lincoln Pigman