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Russia pushes visa-free Russia-EU travel
In the name of improving business and tourist links, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev announced that Russia is ready to drop its visa requirements of EU citizens. He also tacitly acknowledged that several EU member states have reservations regarding any mutual lifting of visa restrictions.
As it now stands, Russian citizens have to apply for Schengen visas to visit the 27-country European Union, and citizens of European Union countries, in turn, have to apply for visas to visit Russia. Tourist visa costs are relatively low for all parties, at around €35 for Russians entering the EU, and also €35 for the citizens of most European Union states seeking to enter Russia.
Meanwhile, in an independent but fascinating development, Russia and Kazakhstan are moving toward a customs union. Starting July 1, the two countries will charge identical tariffs on trade with the external world while enjoying internal free trade on a bilateral basis. Originally, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus were supposed to join a three-country customs union, but Belarus has opted out over details related to oil export duties.
Russia is trying to coordinate its accession to the World Trade Organization in a small bloc alongside Kazakhstan and Belarus, a decision announced last year to widespread head-scratching among trade experts. Joint accession to the World Trade Organization is unprecedented.