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“One-sided easing of visa requirements for EU by Minsk inadmissible”

Belarus’ decision to ease visa-requirements for foreigners is to be coordinated with Russia, Russian experts told EADaily on January 25 when commenting Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei’s statement concerning “step-by-step” expansion of visa-free entry options for foreigners.

Bogdan Bezpalko, a member of the Russian President’s Council for International Relations says easing of visa requirements by Belarus without reckoning with Russia will sooner or later result in a conflict of interests for Minsk and Moscow.

“Such steps need to be arranged in advance. Although the visa-free entry in Belarus for citizens of 80 countries is for a short-term - five days - and may not trigger any serious discrepancies, an open and unlimited visa-free regime may result in problems for Russia. With its open space with Belarus, Russia will have to protect itself somehow. Besides, Russia’s confrontation with the collective West continues despite Donald Trump’s election. The U.S. troops have been deployed in the territory of Eastern Europe. There are still threats of terror attacks by Islamic radicals,” Bezpalko says.

In such situation, he says, such easing of visa requirements should be introduced only after relevant arrangements with Russia or when Russia introduces a similar visa-free regime.

“However, I am not sure that we have the necessary conditions to lift visa requirements for the citizens of the EU countries. The relations have not been fully normalized and present-day EU is a territory where a great number of Muslims, including extremists, reside. We could see that many citizens of the EU fought in the territory of Syria and many terror attacks were committed by citizens of the EU countries,” Bezpalko says.

Mikhail Alexandrov, political scientist, a leading expert at the Center of Military and Political Studies at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, says introduction of visa-free regime with the EU by Belarus may trigger new challenges and threats for Russia. The expert recalls the refugees that have flooded Europe.

“If visa requirements are lifted, those refugees will appear in Belarus and then in our country. I don’t mean that they will leave EU for Belarus, but terror groups may use that chance to penetrate the territory of Belarus and then to Russia. I think Russia should request explanations from the Foreign Ministry of Belarus over what they are going to arrange and how they are going to ensure security. Only after they reply, it will be possible to adopt a decision and, perhaps, increase border control,” Mikhail Alexandrov says.

President at the Institute of National Strategy Mikhail Remizov makes a point of the fact that Russia also weighs shifting to a visa-free regime with EU, but one-sided introduction of such regime amid open borders is inadmissible. Having open borders, Russia and Belarus must settle such issues together.

“There was no such problem before, as our travel regime with the CIS and Belarus was similar, although there were some exceptions, for instance, Georgia. With the growing number of such exceptions, a coordinated migration policy will become more relevant. Both the sides should be blamed for failing to wage such policy by present,” Remizov says.

He recalled that reports on an agreement between Belarus and EU for opening of refugee camps gave a point to that issue.

“In fact, it is a terrifying alarm for the citizens of both Belarus and Russia. It questions such an important achievement of the Russian-Belarusian integration as free movement. Therefore, I see nothing challenging or conspiratory in Makei’s statement urging easing of visa requirements. All indications are that it is time to settle the issue of coordinated policy of border and migration control,” he says.

As EADaily reported earlier, Belarus introduced a visa-free regime for five days for citizens of 80 countries, including EU, who arrive in the country via national airport of Minsk. Russia called it an internal affair of Belarus. Later, Foreign Minister of Belarus Vladimir Makei came out for “step-by-step” easing of visa requirements for foreigners arriving in Belarus and for lifting visa requirements with the EU in the future.

Earlier, it was reported that migrant accommodation centers will open in Belarus. Foreign Minister of Russia Sergey Lavrov urged intensified talks for single migration policy of Russia and Belarus.

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