Russia has pulled out of the Bishkek accord that established visa-free travel for citizens of the Commonwealth of Independent States. The Russian Foreign Ministry said today that, so far, no decision has been made on which countries' citizens will require visas in the future to travel to Russia. It said visas are aimed at preventing non-CIS nationals from crossing into Russia through CIS countries. NCA's Sophie Lambroschini reports.
Moscow, 19 June 2000 (RFE/RL) -- A Russian Foreign Ministry official said today that, while Russia has left the Bishkek accord, that does not mean that it will automatically begin demanding visas from all CIS country citizens.
Igor Popov is the deputy head of the Russian Foreign Ministry department responsible for relations with the CIS. He told our correspondent that the issue will be negotiated separately, on a bilateral basis, with each state.
Security Council Secretary Sergey Ivanov announced last Friday during a visit to Tbilisi that Russia was leaving the Bishkek accord and therefore would have the right to install a visa regime with CIS states.
According to Popov, the Bishkek accords signed in 1992 no longer meet Russia's needs.
"With the new threats of terrorism, mafia, and all that, the Bishkek accords have reached their natural lifespan."
Bilateral negotiations, Popov said, will allow Russia to address its specific new security problems. Since the war in Chechnya started last October, Russian officials have increasingly alleged that foreign mercenaries are entering Russia through other CIS countries, particularly Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Georgia.
In Tbilisi, Ivanov complained that, "tens, even hundreds of thousands" of non-CIS residents have been entering Russia through bordering CIS countries.
Last fall, after accusing Georgia of letting mercenaries, Chechen rebels, and weapons slip across the Georgian border into Chechnya, Moscow announced it would install a visa regime with Georgia. Details are still being worked out.
According to Popov, even the narrower five-member customs union signed last month between Russia, Tajikistan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan could also be subjected to modifications. In the Foreign Ministry official's words: "Russia might establish a single regime for the union or bilateral ones, this is still being discussed."
At the moment, the only CIS country Russia demands visas from is Turkmenistan. That visa was levied as a reciprocity measure after Ashgabat left the Bishkek accord last year and demanded visas from other CIS-country nationals.
The prospect of a visa regime inside the former territory of the Soviet Union, where families and businesses are still interlinked, is unsettling to many CIS residents. In his comments on Friday, Ivanov tried to play down the meaning of an eventual visa regime. He said the introduction of visas had caused no difficulties for Turkmenistan, saying Turkmen citizens could get visas to Russia within one day and for less than $2.
But Sergey Stepanov, a Foreign Ministry official who deals with Russian-Turkmen relations, told our correspondent that in fact visas cost $30 on both sides -- an unaffordable sum for many -- because of a tariff imposed by Ashgabat.
And Mikhail Berdyev, a reporter for Radio Liberty's Turkmen service, says anecdotal evidence suggests that in practice, many Turkmen citizens have to pay bribes to get their visas -- which raises the price to around $200 and the waiting period to about a month.