Putin presses EU on visa-free travel and trade

Putin presses EU on visa-free travel and trade
The Russian President criticized the existing visa regime between Russia and the European Union, saying it is thwarting the development of economic relations between the trading partners.

­What does a country like Guatemala have that Russia does not? The freedom of its citizens to travel to the EU without a visa.

Putin expressed the hope that Moscow and Brussels will find the political will to make progress in tackling the visa issue.

“We will not blow this situation out of proportion, but we are doing concrete things: I have a long list of countries whose citizens do not need visas to visit the EU," Putin said at the Russia-EU summit in Brussels on Friday. 

The Russian leader cited a list of countries whose citizens are able to travel freely to the EU, including Venezuela, Honduras, Mauritius, and Mexico.

Another 40 states, which are located thousands of kilometers from the EU, also enjoy visa-free privileges, Putin added. 

Despite the fact that bilateral trade between Russia and the European Union “stands at $400 billion,” the European Commission in November proposed adding “five Caribbean countries and ten countries located in the Pacific Ocean” to this list, he said.

Putin then reminded his European colleagues as to the weighty contribution that Russian tourists make to the EU economy each year.

"Every year, Russian tourists spend about 18 billion euro in shops in the European Union,” the Russian President said. “No doubt, this is a big figure, and taking into account the fact that this year our trade turnover will reach 400 billion, the importance of our trade and economic relations are very high."

Putin believes that nearly all of the technical aspects connected to the introduction of a visa-free regime have been settled, he told a press conference following the Russian-European Union summit.

"We are done with technical details, now – it is up to the political will of our EU partners," the Russian President stated.

Eventually, the lack of a visa-free travel regime “hinders the development of economic ties," he added.

At the same time, the Russian leader said he was aware that to in order to make a decision, the European Union must reach an agreement among its 27 member countries.

"Well, we shall wait until our European partners are ripe for this decision," he concluded.

Russia’s frustration with EU bureaucracy, however, did not end at visa issues.

Putin told his European partners that Russia insists the EU terminate trade limitations and anti-dumping procedures. 

"We expect that the EU would cancel most of the restrictions that hamper our exports, and in particular, put a halt to anti-dumping procedures.

Europe accounts for 48.8 percent of Russian trade, Putin recalled.

"This is not the limit,” he pledged. “Russian exporters are ready to increase and diversify goods to the European market.

Putin reminded that trade changes are required due to Russia’s entry into the WTO. 

Finally, on the energy front, Putin said he hoped that Russia could reach a compromise with the EU over the so called Third Energy Package – a set of rules regulating the European gas and electricity market. 

The package imposes restrictions on ownership of the production and transportation of energy assets, which has affected Russian energy corporations, especially the government-controlled natural gas monopoly, Gazprom.

Putin reiterated the Russian position that these rules should not be applied to contracts signed before the Third Energy Package was approved by the European Union. 

The Russian President reminded his EU colleagues that Russia’s new projects on natural gas transportation to Europe would seriously add to the continent’s energy security.

Robert Bridge, RT