Improving relations with Russia’s western neighbors
Russia has publicly recognized the right of Poland and Lithuania to introduce a regular visa regime with Russia, including their right to deny visa applications and prevent the travel through their territories of those Russian passengers with irregularities in their documents. It is quite telling that in September 2003 the Russian Foreign Ministry has issued a special statement clearly disapproving the protest action undertaken by the members of National Bolshevik party in the train circulating between Moscow and Kaliningrad. All this makes assume that Russia’s political class is not interested in securitizing the KO situation “from inside”, which positively contributes to shaping “a-imperial” self-attitudes in Russia and overcoming the chauvinistic traditions inherited from the past.
What is even more important is that the need to solve the Kaliningrad situation pushed Russia to plug into other political mechanisms existing in Europe. For example, Russian Ambassador to Poland has suggested that the so called “Weimar triangle” (a forum of political leaders of France, Germany and Poland) might be eventually transformed into “Paris – Berlin – Warsaw – Russia” informal group. Apart from political considerations, there is an economic rationale in these proposals: Russia anticipates that Lithuania and Poland would be able to attract additional EU funds to be spent on upgrading communication and transportation with the East.
In connection with the KO’s contiguity with the NATO countries, Russia has drastically played down her earlier negativism in regard to this alliance, only reserving some concerns about its “expansion without taking into a proper consideration Russia’s interest”. In parallel, Russia has recognized that NATO goes through a deep transformation, which leaves wide opportunities to make the interests of the two parts compatible.
The whole dynamics of the KO’s situation established a rather favorable background for starting negotiations on eliminating visas. This idea was called “Russia’s offensive”, with Russia having rather good chances to challenge the EU and enforce a real debate. Metaphorically speaking, this strategy could be defined as “breaking the wall instead of hewing the window”.
In principle, the negotiations on visa issues are based on preliminary time table to include a number of stages: introduction of visa-free regime for bearers of diplomatic passports, visa-free travel for persons having invitation from the legal residents of the country of destination; cross-border visa-free travel for residents of border territories, for employees of the cargo transport companies, for disabled and sick persons, for participants of educational, cultural and sport-related programs, for senior citizens and for organized tourists. Interim measures advocated by Russia are the leveling down the number of papers to be filled out upon visa request, the acceptance of fax and e-mail supporting documents, the non-applicability of ‘personal appearance of the applicant’ rule, the possibility of submitting the documents in electronic form, the acceptance of the medical insurance policies issued by all licensed companies, the inclusion of the home return rule into the insurance conditions, and the introduction of the “visa history” (analogous to “credit history” for bank clients). Russia is eager to consider – even in one-sided way – the possibility of offering a visa-free travel for public servants and experts of EU’s bodies, members of official delegations, businessmen, students, scholars, journalists and artists.
The immigration debates prior to the appearance of the “Kaliningrad issue” were marked by multiple myths and stereotypes from both sides. The EU officials have expressed concerns that Russians might jump off from moving trains in attempts to immigrate into the EU. The Russians, in their turn, have shown much of misunderstanding of and disrespect to the new border-crossing procedures.
Visa-free travel was put in the Russia – EU agenda in direct connection with the KO situation. There is a growing understanding – both in Russia and in the EU – that canceling the visa regulations is a lengthy process to consist of different stages. One of the ideas widely discussed is the introduction of visa-free travel for certain categories of citizens (frequent travelers, qualified professionals, etc.)
In recent years the Russian government has made some important steps forward in meeting the challenges of immigration. Among the most substantial decisions were the establishment of the unified system of immigration control in Russia; Presidential Decree (2002) “On Modifying the State Governance in Migration Policies”; the Federal Law (2002) “On the Legal Status of Foreign Citizens in the Russian Federation” which introduces the practice of issuing migration cards; the Federal Law “On the Citizenship of the Russian Federation” (2002); the Concept of Regulating the Migration Processes in the Russian Federation approved by the Russian government; Regulation of Issuing the Residence Permits for Foreign Citizens and Persons Without Citizenship. According to the ruling of the Russian government, each of the regions has to request yearly quotas for foreign workers. Experiments with forming the Immigration Inspections were ventured in certain regions.
Those measures, in a significant way stimulated by the EU, proved to be rather beneficial for Russia herself, since due to their implementation a number of practical outputs were attained, including the assessment of the quantity of different categories of foreigners residing in Russia, the specification of their legal status, the evaluation of their employment opportunities, and so on. President Putin himself has recognized that Russia is not less than her Baltic neighbours interested in identifying the criminals traveling to and from Kaliningrad. To reduce the inflows of illegal immigrants, the Russian government has severed the responsibility of the transport operators for delivering to Russia illegal migrants.