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EU Takes Another Step Toward Visa Liberalization With Belarus

BRUSSELS -- European Union ambassadors have approved a visa-facilitation plan with Belarus, a step that could eventually lead to smoother travel to the bloc for citizens of the former Soviet republic.

The action on October 9 follows a decision in September by Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to sign on to the deal simplifying the visa regime for citizens traveling to EU member states.

That approval does not automatically guarantee a new visa scheme will come into effect.

The move must still be approved by the European Parliament, and countries within the bloc must agree to the final plan.

The EU still intends to assess "the security and integrity" of Belarus's system of issuance of biometric passports, according to a document seen by RFE/RL.

Visa facilitation is the first step before potentially granting complete visa liberalization currently enjoyed by the citizens of Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.

It would bring simpler and cheaper procedures for Belarusians to get visas to all EU countries, apart from Britain and Ireland, but also including non-EU states Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland.

The West has been attempting to reduce Russia's influence in Belarus, amid efforts by Moscow to revive a union between Russia and Belarus that some observers fear could result in Minsk losing much of its political independence.

The Kremlin has also been pushing to host an air base in Belarus after NATO expanded its presence in Eastern Europe to deter Russia. Minsk has been reluctant to support the move.

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