Ukraine Set To Leapfrog Russia In EU Visa Terms

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The European Union is preparing to offer Ukraine an Action Plan on visa-free travel in November. But there is little prospect of a similar deal with Russia for now.

Ukrainians have been complaining for years about the EU visa.

EU Observer understands that the European Commission has drafted the Ukraine plan, which is to be adopted by EU foreign ministers in Brussels (25 October) on Monday and formally unveiled at an EU-Ukraine summit in the EU capital on 22 November.

An EU diplomatic source said there is a "great" chance the EU ministers will take the step.

The Action Plan itself is a list of EU demands for Ukraine reforms on issues such as document security or repatriation of irregular immigrants. The open-ended plan does not give a deadline but some in Kiev dare to hope it could be put in place in time for the Euro 2012 football championships in Ukraine and Poland.

The technical EU document is seen as a political breakthrough in Ukraine which has been pleading, without success, for an EU enlargement perspective for the past five years.

"It means that the Schengen or Berlin visa wall will sooner or later be demolished," Ukraine's ambassador to the EU, Kostiantyn Yelisieiev, told this website, referring to the EU's passport-free Schengen zone.

"It would be very important for the morale of Ukrainians. My grandfather died in the Second World War to liberate Europe from the Nazis and to provide freedom of movement for his grandsons and granddaughters. If my grandfather asked me today, why did he die - I would be able to say 'Now I finally have the right to travel freely across Europe'."

Russia has in recent months also been clamouring for the EU to lift visa requirements. But EU officials say that Moscow is unlikely to see any concrete developments at its respective EU summit also in Brussels in December.

Russia at its previous EU summit in May rejected EU proposals for "Common Steps" on visa liberalisation - a tailor-made EU package in which both sides would have set out operational steps to take on visa-free travel, rather than the EU dictating terms as with Ukraine.

Moscow instead gave Brussels a visa waiver memorandum offering to drop visa requirements "overnight" if the EU reciprocates. It has stuck to its offer publicly and privately ever since, despite the fact that it ignores basic EU legal requirements on easing travel restrictions.

"You can basically put it in the bin," an EU official said on the Russian memorandum. "The Russians have painted themselves into a corner by putting the visa waiver on the table because now it is very hard for them to accept that the technical steps have to be taken first."

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev speaking after a three-way summit with French and German leaders in the French resort town of Deauville on Tuesday accepted the EU rebuttal. "Everybody knows we have to cancel the visa regime and we understand we can't do it straight away," he said, according to Reuters.

For his part, France's Nicolas Sarkozy said: "From my point of view, in 10-15 years the vision that we should have is a common economic EU-Russia space, end of visa requirements and a common security concept."

An EU diplomatic contact said it is unclear to Brussels whether or not Russia is genuinely interested in visa-free or if its visa demands are part of a more complicated diplomatic "dance" in which it wants EU concessions in another area instead.

"They already have what they want - easy travel conditions for diplomats and businessmen," the source said.

The contact added that the Deauville meeting is a "kick in the teeth" for the EU's recently anointed foreign policy chiefs Herman Van Rompuy and Catherine Ashton: "It's not clear to us whether they were even informed about Deauville, let alone invited."

Source: EU Observer