Russia and EU increasingly interconnected – ambassador to Brussels

Russia’s ambassador to the European Union, Vladimir Chizhov, talked to RT about overall relations between Russia and the EU, emphasizing the aspects of implementing a visa free regime between the sides.
RT: When will be the next summit between Russia and the EU, and what do you hope to achieve?

Vladimir Chizhov: The next big meeting will probably be the 27th Russia-EU summit, scheduled for the beginning of June in Russia. We have such summits twice a year, and Russia is the only country with whom the European Union has high level meetings so often. We believe that it will be a good opportunity to push forward a number of joint projects covering various fields of cooperation: the economy and the negotiating process on new basic agreements between Russia and European Union, as well as other issues, like moving closer to the ultimate long-term goal of a visa-free regime. Also, cooperation in the field of conflict management, and others.

RT: What is your reaction to the so-called “Arab spring,” the revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa?

VC: It’s not only the revolutions that are happening at the Middle East. We should not forget the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which remains at the heart of the overall regional situation in the Middle East. That is why Russia considers it quite appropriate, and I would say timely, to reinvigorate the Middle East Quartet format. As far as the revolutions across the Arab world are concerned… Well, I would say that they didn’t come as a total surprise for Russian diplomacy. The underground currents in Arab societies were actually visible for some time. And the inabilities of those governments, those regimes that had been in power for decades, were becoming an obvious factor hampering social development. Look at the demographics. In Egypt, the average age of the population is about 24 years, which means that approximately two-thirds of the Egyptians had never known a leader other than Hosni Mubarak. In Yemen it’s even younger. So it should not be perceived as something which has fallen out of the blue sky. On the other hand, of course we certainly believe that the rule of the international community should be on the side of maintaining international law and should concentrate on preventing atrocities like those committed by some of those regimes, but should of course be within the framework of the relevant UN Security Council resolutions.

RT: What is the biggest obstacle to a visa-free travel deal between Russia and the EU?

VC: It has been a long story. The first time that the EU actually accepted visa abolition as a ‘long term goal’ – and the phraseology belongs to the EU – was back in 2003. But that was approximately eight years ago, so my logical question to my interlocutors here in Brussels has been, ‘How long is long?’ Last year we managed to take a significant step forward by changing the modalities of our visa-free dialogue, which has been around for several years, from an exploratory phase to an operational phase. So, as we speak, the two sides are preparing the respective drafts of a set of common steps which hopefully will be discussed and agreed upon as a document in the next few weeks. And that will give us a certain indication of the pace at which we’ll be able to proceed. There have certainly been some technical issues that had to be addressed, like for example introducing biometric passports. They have been addressed, and currently the Russian authorities are already issuing biometric passports which are compatible technically with the equipment installed in EU member states. Because it wouldn’t make sense to have a biometric passport which would be unreadable elsewhere. Anyway, I believe that today most of the remaining obstacles belong to the political sphere, rather than the technical or organizational one. But overall my strong belief is that in 21st-century Europe, visas as such are obsolete.

RT:Do you have a year by which you would hope this would be finished?

VC: There was a prominent statesman here who was president of the European Commission – the previous one, Romano Prodi. At a summit in 2003, he laid out a timeline for introducing a visa-free regime, and that was 2008. Unfortunately, we are at least three years behind schedule.