Russia has upped the pressure on the EU over its long-running visa requirements wrangle, warning the bloc that it would consider retaliatory measures if it continues to delay progress over the issue.
For years, Moscow has been pushing the EU to loosen its strict visa requirements for Russian citizens, and even drop them altogether for some travelers. Now, it looks like the issue could well become a key focus of Russia’s foreign policy, with President Vladimir Putin himself likely to raise the issue at next month’s Russia-EU summit in Brussels.
Anvar Azimov, special envoy of the Russian foreign ministry, told Russian media that Mr Putin was determined to press European ministers on the matter:
“He will put the question pointblank: are we moving forward or not? The next year will be the moment of truth and we will be making decisions at the end of the year.”
Azimov also warned of the dire consequences if no breakthrough was agreed:
“If there is no breakthrough on this agreement by the end of 2013, Russia will be making conclusions from this. We are sometimes slow on the uptake but we can hit back sufficiently.”
Azimov refused to elaborate on how Russia might retaliate against the EU, but his comments highlight a growing frustration among Moscow’s political chiefs. Previously, the Russians have accused the EU of being stuck with a Cold War mentality, and using the visa issue for political leverage against them.
For its part, the EU seems to be divided on whether or not to loosen visa controls for Russian citizens. According to Azimov, 17 EU countries were in favor of such a move, yet 10 states remained opposed.
Traditionally, Russia’s reaction has been to respond in kind, forcing EU citizens to undergo a drawn out visa application process that includes securing a ‘letter of invitation’ if they want to visit the country. Should the EU fail to move forward, Azimov said that Russia would expand its own visa restrictions to foreign flight crews, insisting they obtain Russian visas to travel on in-bound flights. This measure, he said, was a response to the EU’s failure to grant visa-free travel to holders of Russian diplomatic and military passports.
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