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12 May, 2010 10:31

Russia and Turkey agree on visa-free travel

Moscow and Ankara have signed an agreement to cancel the visa regime between the two countries as President Dmitry Medvedev is on an official visit to Turkey to sign strategic deals.

The agreement on mutual cancellation of visas for citizens of the two states was signed on Wednesday. This step will open “absolutely new opportunities for promoting tourism,” Medvedev announced at a joint media conference following his meeting with his Turkish counterpart. Russia’s leader dubbed the move a “truly historic event”.

Abdullah Gul, for his part, said he is pleased over such a development in the bilateral relations.

However, it will be the average Russian traveler who will be happy to hear the news, as Turkey is one of the most popular destinations for holidaymakers seeking sun, sea and good service for reasonable prices. Last year alone, Medvedev reminded, over two million Russians visited Turkey.

Up until now, the process of getting a visa to Turkey was rather simple compared to that of getting to, for instance, the EU. Upon arrival in the country, tourists can get permission to cross the border by paying just $20 and getting a stamp in their passport. However, after the agreement is signed and comes into force, tourists will be able to get into the country for free and stay there for up to 30 days.

As for when exactly Russian and Turkish voyagers will be able to finally enjoy visa-free trips, Medvedev said the moment will coincide with the coming into force of another treaty – the readmission of illegal immigrants.

“The enactment of a visa cancellation agreement with Turkey, this process will be synchronized with the preparation and enactment of a readmission agreement. This document is almost ready. I hope that all the necessary procedures will be finalized and the document [scrapping visas] will come into force in the near future,” Medvedev said as quoted by Interfax news agency.

Prior to his visit to Ankara, Medvedev was in Syria for talks with President Bashar al-Asad. In addition to bilateral relations issues, the two discussed the situation in the Middle East.

During the visit to neighboring Turkey, serious concerns for the international community have once again come into the spotlight. Israel’s relations with Arabic countries – in particular between the Palestinian National Authority and Tel Aviv – and Iranian nuclear policies: these are the issues that have to be sorted out to bring long-awaited stability to the region.

According to the Turkish President, Hamas “should be included in the political process for the settlement of the Middle East problem.” Abdullah Gul is certain that both Russia and Turkey “should draw all the parties concerned into the negotiating process in the region.”

As for Iran with its nuclear ambitions, Medvedev reiterated the position that Moscow has been maintaining for a while: further efforts should be made to solve the problem peacefully. At the same time, Tehran should be urged to act constructively.

“Our position is well known and is similar to that of the Turkish Republic,” Medvedev said.

The president also repeated the position voiced earlier: the Middle East should become an area free of nuclear weapons, as any other development may lead to very grave consequences. Russia, Medvedev said, will continue contacts with Iran and Israel for the denuclearization of the region.

“We intend to use all our resources to continue contacts with Iran. Naturally, we will talk on this issue with Israel and other countries involved in the process,” he stressed. “I hope we will be able to find a way out of this very complicated situation,” Medvedev added.

Finally, journalists asked for Medvedev to comment on an issue quite sensitive to Turkey – its relations with Armenia. The stumbling block is the Ottoman Empire genocide of the Armenians in 1915 which has been recognized by over 20 countries including Russia, France, and Canada, but is still denied by Turkey – the successor of the Ottoman Empire.

The Russian leader calls the topic rather complicated, but still, he is optimistic.

“I hope both parties will be able to ultimately achieve all the necessary decisions and restore their relations in full,” he said. This would “help stabilize the situation in our region, actively develop economic relations, and, as a result, simply increase the living standards in all countries of the region.”