Former Russian Prime Minister and current chairman of the majority United Russia party, Dmitry Medvedev says it’s high time visa-free travel became a reality in between the EU and Russia. Medvedev believes the coronavirus pandemic has created a “learning vacuum” where great progress can be made in international affairs.
Speaking at an online meeting with the PolitStartup HR project, Mr. Medvedev said “there’s no turning back”, referring to the way COVID-19 has fundamentally changed everything, especially cooperation. For those who recall, it was Medvedev back in 2010 at the EU-Russia summit who was pushing a partnership for modernization with the idea of visa-free travel for Russian and EU citizens. However, a lot has happened since then. The Ukraine situation, friction between Russia and EU nations on account of the Crimea situation, a lot of water has gone under the geopolitical bridge. But Russian tourists are still an integral facet of the European economic equation.
Since 2017, Russia has unilaterally pursued a policy of visa liberalization through the issuance of electronic visas (e-visas). And in 2018, Russia experimented with visa-free entry by allowing foreigners and stateless persons to travel to Russian cities that hosted international sports events with just a valid passport and a FAN ID.
EU leaders have been more open to the idea of visa-free travel recently, but there’s still a long way to go before any real progress can be seen. On a positive note, the EU Institute for Security Studies conducted a scenario for visa-free travel for Russian citizens to the EU. The idea for the testing was for a potential launch a “testing phase” of visa-free travel for Russian citizens that would last for two years, starting in 2024.
The institute is efforting strategies that would allow the EU to reconnect with Russia while compromising on the disconnect caused by the Crimea/Ukraine situation. It’s clear from Mr. Medvedev, that Russia desires visa-free travel, and that openness and transparency are key ingredients to build bridges and trust between Russia and the EU.