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Poland: Visa-Free Agreement With Russia Raises Concerns

Warsaw, 15 November 1996 (RFE/RL) - There was an immediate and widespread reaction in Poland, after the surprise signing of a Poland-Russia visa-free agreement during Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz's visit to Moscow.

An RFE/RL correspondent accompanying Cimoszewicz reports the visa-free-travel proposal was not on Cimoszewicz' agenda, but was proposed -- unexpectedly -- and agreed with Russia's Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin.

Our Warsaw correspondent reports officials there made clear that the accord would not come into force until another agreement on return of undesirable aliens is concluded.

Polish officials have expressed concern that Poland could become a transit point for refugees, especially Asian refugees, fleeing to the West through Russia and other former Soviet republics.

Poland has already concluded return-of-alien agreements with Ukraine, Lithuania and Belarus.

Reports cited by our Warsaw correspondent from the Polish press note that Western Europe is expected to be very unhappy about the Poland-Russia agreement. The West has consistently recommended tightening controls on Poland's eastern border. The reports suggest that, without visa requirements, people with Russian, or old Soviet passports, will flood Poland, and -- resultingly -- Western Europe.

Officially, Poland's police Commander, General Jerzy Stanczyk, declared that the police are supposed to catch criminals, not to regulate the traffic across the border. But privately, police officials tell RFE/RL that they fear Russian street vendors will become a real problem across Poland's countryside.

The biggest bazaar in Warsaw, the "Stadion Dziesieciolecia" (stadium) will be turned into the biggest bazaar in the world, complain police in the capital. Law enforcement agencies also speak of their fear of the "Russian Mafia."

Polish politicians reacted with apprehension to the visa-free agreement.

Kazimierz Ujazdowski, from the "Conservative Coalition," suggested there will be an uncontrolled flow of crime across the border. Ujazdowski said the decision to sign the visa-free-travel agreement goes against Polish aspirations to join the European Union.

"We were supposed to have the same policy as the West European countries. I would like to point out that they (the West) did not open their borders to former Soviet citizens," said Ujazdowski.

Janusz Dobrosz of the "Peasant Party," the junior member in the coalition Government, thinks that the agreement has both good and bad sides. but he said, "There is, however, a question whether Polish border police are ready to handle greater number of travelers."

Polish press yesterday said that it is expected a re-admission agreement could be signed by the end of the year. That prompted observations from the papers that the first visa-free tourists from Russia could be arriving in Poland early next year.