Russia, Italy will simplify visa procedures in near future

Moscow hopes a bilateral Russian-Italian agreement simplifying visa procedures will be signed in the near future, reports the Russian foreign ministry.

Moscow believes this document will be the first step towards a visa-free regime with the European Union.

Russia appreciates the position of Italy, which advocates measures to facilitate travels across Europe and the gradual switchover to visa-free travels, Alexander Yakovenko, Russian foreign ministry official spokesman, said in comments on statements to this effect by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The visiting Italian premier said in the Kremlin yesterday that Italy was prepared to simplify visa issuing procedures for Russian and Italian nationals. Mr Berlusconi is positive this move will contribute to the further development of Italian-Russian relations.

Mr Yakovenko said the two leaders agreed to sign a relevant document while Vladimir Putin was visiting Italy in November 2003.

The two countries' foreign ministers issued a joint statement in Rome pledging to begin drafting the document. The two countries' experts held several meetings in the past few months and agreed on the wordings.

Moscow hopes the agreement, which it views as very important, will be signed in the near future.

The agreement will allow to step up contacts between the two countries' nationals, including in the cultural and humanitarian spheres, according to Mr Yakovenko.

Mr Yakovenko said the agreement envisaged simplified visa issuing procedures for some categories of residents, among them university and school students who are part of exchange programmes, scholars, men in the arts, education officials, athletes travelling for a sporting event, official delegation members, certain groups of businessmen and diplomats. The set of documents required for obtaining an entry visa and the timeframe for issuing visas are expected to be reduced dramatically. Besides, visa dues will not be charged under certain circumstances and a group of individuals entitled to multiple visas, including 5-year ones, will be broadened.

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