The Russian government has been instructed to develop a new entry system for foreigners that would allow them to travel to Russia without visas.
In a major departure, President Vladimir Putin's initiative would grant the privilege even if their own nations don't allow the same for Russians. Previously, Moscow followed a principle of reciprocity on the matter.
A presidential order issued on Sunday tasked officials, including those from the interior and foreign ministries as well the Federal Security Service (FSB), to “develop and present proposals on introducing a visa-free regime for foreigners traveling to Russia for tourist, business or educational purposes as well as those participating in sports or cultural events.”
All the measures should be introduced “regardless of the principle of reciprocity,” a document published by the Kremlin said. The decision was taken following a meeting of the Russian State Council’s executive committee. The State Council is an advisory body formed by the president to better coordinate the tasks of various government and public agencies.
The order also suggested increasing the validity period of multi-entry visas, as well as easing the regulations in the field of tourism, including the border checks of Russian tourist vessels. Earlier, the Russian city of St. Petersburg allowed organized groups of tourists traveling on cruise ships to enter and stay on its territory visa-free for a certain period of time. The president suggested expanding this practice to other Russian regions.
The government was also ordered to work on increasing the number of passenger and cargo flights by airlines from ‘friendly nations’. The government proposals should be presented before June 1, 2023.
The development comes as the EU has tightened visa restrictions for Russians. In September, the bloc suspended its visa facilitation agreement with Moscow. Later that month, it introduced additional restrictions, banning Russians from applying for short-stay EU visas from third-party countries.
Those who want to stay in the EU for longer than 90 days should not be issued a visa at all, the bloc’s home affairs commissioner, Ylva Johansson, said at the time. Some EU member states took a much harsher approach. In September, Finland closed its borders for Russians holding Schengen tourist visas. The Baltic States said they would not even issue humanitarian visas to Russian nationals.