Thursday

21st Feb 2019

EU considers visa-ban-lite on Russian officials

  • Russia brings up the visa issue at every bilateral meeting (Photo: Boris SV)

The European Commission is considering a ban on visa-free travel for Russian officials linked to the alleged murder of Sergei Magnitsky.

Under the terms of a visa facilitation deal currently being discussed by Brussels and Moscow, Russian officials, who carry so called "service" passports, will no longer have to apply for visas to enter the EU's borderless Schengen zone.

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The perk is due to cover dozens of people accused of involvement in a 2008 plot to embezzle millions of euros from the Russian treasury and to kill the man who found them out - Magnitsky, a 37-year-old accountant and father of two.

US authorities found the evidence against them compelling enough to ban them from visiting the states altogether.

In Brussels, MEPs have called for a similar EU travel ban.

But Russia says they are innocent, while the European External Action Service is happy to let Moscow treat the case as an internal matter.

For their part, a group of 48 euro deputies rebelled against the situation on Tuesday (4 June).

The parliamentarians - which include senior figures from major political groups, such as German centre-right MEP Elmar Brok and Belgian Liberal Guy Verhofstadt - said in a letter to EU countries' foreign ministers that parliament will veto the visa facilitation deal unless diplomats act.

"Under current circumstances we will be unable to support any visa facilitation agreements with Russia and will advocate the parliament to refuse its consent, unless the [EU] Council adopts an EU 'Magnitsky Law'," they said, by reference to the US legal ban.

The European Parliament has no formal power over EU foreign policy, such as sanctions.

But its approval is needed for bilateral visa deals.

With Russia urging the EU to speed up the visa facilitation deal at almost every opportunity, including Tuesday's EU-Russia summit in Yekaterinburg, the veto could poison relations.

An EU source told this website on Tuesday that one way to avoid the clash might be to exclude the Magnitsky suspects from the service passport exemption.

"We are considering the best way to do this. One option is to seek guarantees from the Russians that people on the Magnitsky list will not use service passports to enter the Union," the contact said.

"Another option is to flag their names in the Schengen Information System," the source added.

The contact explained that if the Russian officials are red-flagged, individual EU countries could still grant them visas if they applied.

But if they turned up at an airport in, say, Paris with no visa and tried to use their service passport to enter, they would be sent home.

"The Schengen system is very flexible. There are several ways to do these things," the source said.

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