Kremlin continues call for visa-free travel with US

Russia and the United States are looking for ways to make life easier for travelers (RIA Novosti / STF)
In an effort to take the Russia-US reset to the next level, as well as end the aggravation of jumping through bureaucratic loops for travelers, Moscow is continuing to press Washington on introducing visa-free travel between the two countries.

President Dmitry Medvedev on Monday told reporters in Irkutsk that one of the issues on the agenda during his upcoming meeting with US President Barack Obama is to simplify, and eventually eliminate, visa requirements for US and Russian nationals.

"I intend to seriously discuss (the visa issue)," Medvedev said, adding that he had sent a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama on that issue.

The Russian and American presidents are set to meet on the sidelines of a G8 summit inFrance at the end of May.

Meanwhile, presidential aide Sergei Prikhodko, who heads the committee tasked with abolishing visa requirements between Russia and the European Union, said that the introduction of a visa-free regime between Russia and the US is vital for the full development of relations between the two countries.

"In the issue of a possible abolition of visas, we are guided by common approaches both in regard to countries of the European Union and the USA," he explained.

The Kremlin aide also said he was fully aware of the hurdles that will have to be cleared for such an initiative to pass.

"We are well aware of all difficulties connected with the settlement of (the visa) issue, both as concerns the political component… ensuring security and from the point of view of logistical and technical aspects of the process," Prikhodko added. "Nevertheless we consider the abolition of visas an important step in the development of relations between Russia and the European Union, as well as between Russia and the United States.”

The idea of abolishing visas between Russia and the United States was initially floated in March at a meeting between US Vice President Joseph Biden and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

"If Russia and the United States agreed to introduce a visa-free regime before Russia makes an agreement on the matter with the European Union, it would be a historical step in the development of Russian-U.S. relations," Putin said.

The Russian authorities have long been trying to persuade Europe to drop visas for Russian citizens.

Biden, who was said to have been taken unawares by the idea, called Putin’s proposal to introduce visa free travel between Russia and the United States "a good idea."

The US Embassy in Moscow, meanwhile, said that it shares Putin’s goal of visa-free travel between the two countries, while working with the Russian government on related issues to ease the visa process.

“We share Prime Minister Putin’s long-term goal of a visa-free regime, but that’s probably some years in the future,” David Siefkin, spokesperson for the US Embassy in Moscow, told RT.  “In the meantime, we’re working together with the Russian government to expand the length and flexibility of travel for both Russian and US citizens in the very near future.”

Siefkin then mentioned that the US and Russian governments “are revising a draft arrangement that would allow for citizens of both countries to receive 2-year, multiple-entry visas to the other country.”

“In fact, the Department of State prefers that we do 10-year visas, but that visa length must be reciprocated by the other government,” Siefkin added. “When implemented, this change will reduce the cost of a US visa for Russian citizens, and increase travel flexibility for American visitors to Russia.”

“We are very close to finalizing this document, which we hope our Presidents might be able to announce when they meet later in the spring,” the US Embassy spokesperson said.

Although nobody is predicting a quick fix to the visa issue, it is a reassuring sign of improving relations that such an idea, which would have been unheard of just 10 years ago, is starting to get serious attention at the very highest levels.

Robert Bridge, RT