BRUSSELS - Reaction to Russia's demands that its citizens be given visa freedom to travel to EU countries has been lukewarm in Brussels, and Diego de Ojeda, foreign affairs spokesman for the European Commission, said visa freedom for Russians would not be discussed for a long time yet, the Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat reported on Feb. 3.
Russia has sent to the EU a list of 14 concerns that should be solved before enlargement of the union as of May 1. Besides scrapping of visa requirements, Russia wants easier access for its steel and agricultural produce to EU markets and improvement of the situation of Russian-speakers in the Baltic countries.
EU officials said that for Moscow it had actually sunk in that the visa requirements would not be dropped any time soon. Officially the EU excuses itself through technical issues such as Russia's passports and passport system not meeting EU standards.
One member of the European Commission said that Russia's neighboring countries even saw visa freedom with the country of 145 million people as a politically sensitive issue.
Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov last fall expressed the opinion in Helsinki that Russia would be ready for the scrapping of visas in five or seven years. In the European Union Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who enjoys a close friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, has given more support to the scrapping of visas for Russians.
Germany, France and Italy have long held negotiations with Moscow over easier visa requirements for the Russian elite, politicians and businessmen, but such initiatives have not found favor with the commission and the other member countries.
Helsingin Sanomat said another reason why opening of visa talks was out of the question at the moment was that many EU member countries had recently restricted free movement of labor from accession countries and talks with Russia could offend them.
The current Irish presidency as well has shown its reluctance concerning Russian visa freedom. An Irish diplomat admitted the issue had been raised by the Russians.
The list of Russian concerns also pertains to the EU-Russian Partnership and Cooperation Agreement. Russia would like to sign a separate agreement with each of the new member countries, but EU maintains the agreement would automatically expand also to the newcomers.