Foreign Ministry: Russian consulates ordered to begin issuing visas to crew of EU transport vehicles on Nov 1

Russia regrets that the European Union is not ready to apply the visa-free regime to holders of official passports and has informed EU countries that Russian consulates have been ordered to begin issuing visas for Russia to crew members of transport vehicles on November 1.

"We will send notifications to all countries of the EU that have no bilateral agreements with Russia waiving visa requirements for crews stating that they need to either sign a bilateral agreement on this matter (for example, through exchange of notes) or ensure that all crew members have appropriate visas. Russian consulates have been ordered to issue such visas," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko told Interfax.

"We regret that we have not been able to resolve the issue with the application of the visa-free regime for holders of official passports. Nevertheless, Russia has done everything necessary to meet the EU halfway and has taken into account all concerns voiced by the EU," he said.

Grushko said Russia earlier voluntarily announced that the internal legislation envisaging visa requirements for crew members of European aircraft entering Russia will not be applied in the period of the negotiations on the agreement on further easing the visa regime.

"However, this flexibility will be exhausted by November 1 if we have no guarantees that the agreement will be signed," he said.

Grushko said the agreement on which negotiations are now being conducted with the EU should have a provision waiving the visa requirement for the crews of transport vehicles.

"Unfortunately, because the EU is not ready to sign the agreement in its present form, Russia will have to go back to fulfilling the internal legislation, which prohibits visa-free entry by crews of transport vehicles," Grushko said.

"Our partners know about it very well. We warned them about it back in July 2012. We are hoping they will be prepared for this situation," Grushko said.

At the same time, Grushko reiterated that the agreement on easing the visa regime, which Russia and the EU are now discussing, deals with other categories of citizens, including businessmen and representatives of civil society, who could enjoy eased visa procedures. "We consider this agreement as comprehensive and truly furthering cooperation in the visa sphere between the EU and Russia," Grushko said.

It was reported earlier that the European Union had criticized Russia's intention to reinstate visa travels for crews of EU civilian aircraft starting on November 1 and spoken against including service passport holders in an updated agreement on the relaxation of visa travels between Russia and the EU.

"We are eager to sign the visa-facilitation agreement without service passport holders. This is our position," EU Delegation to Russia spokesman Soren Liborius told Interfax.

"We of course have seen the words of the minister who says that Russia will issue such visas, 'with no difficulties,'" he added in Russian. At the same time, however, we have to express our disapproval of the Russian refusal to extend the moratorium on air crew visas. Mr. Lavrov has written to Ms. Ashton that the Russian side links air crews to service passport holders, but we believe this is apple and pears, they are not the same. That is the situation," he said.

"When we get to the issue of visas facilitation we would ask the Russian side to initialize the visa facilitation agreement without regard to service passport holders, but with regard to air crews, as it was originally agreed upon between technical experts in the text we discussed last year in October," he said.

It is the way that the EU is ready to sign the updated visa facilitation agreement at the upcoming EU-Russia summit in December, he said.

"We think that right now when the EU and Russia are developing modernization, partnership, when we are developing our relations, this decision to make life more difficult for our economic cooperation, for air crews, really runs counter to the process we should be in," he said.

Liborius also referred to the Chicago convention accordion to which the signatories enter a 'gentlemen's agreement' and do not require visas for crews of civilian aircraft. "This makes life of companies and travelers easier," he said.

"We are ready to have the visa-facilitation agreement, the text we had spent a lot of time negotiating last year that was signed in December 2011, and it would benefit millions of people. It would make travels easier for a lot of categories of travelers. We are speaking about journalists, members of exchange programs, members of official delegations, NGO representatives, and participants in conferences and seminars. We are speaking about a lot of people. We are speaking about people who had their first travels either to Schengen region or to Russia and not overstaying their visas. They are automatically able to get long-term multi-entry visas. So, we are making a very big step forward in making life easier for people. And in that text we also have provisions exempting civilian aircrew members and civilian sea crew from visa requirements," he said.

"We do believe we should make traveling easier for millions of Russian and European travelers. This year we expect more that 6 million Schengen visas to be issued. So, we will be speaking about millions of people. Service passport holders, even biometrical ones, really belong to another category," he said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in the wake of a meeting of Russian and EU foreign ministers that the Russian side is going to introduce visa travels for the crew of civilian aircraft of EU member states that have no relevant bilateral accords with Russia. Lavrov vowed that such visas will be issued without any difficulties.

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