Russia has tightened visa restrictions with EU citizens, citing the "principle of reciprocity." The move may set back talks on visa-free travel, and Germany has strongly criticized the move.
Russia cited the 'principle of reciprocity' for the changes
From November, German citizens applying for a Russian visa must now show a bank account statement, proof of earnings and the registration of a personal business or place of residence. This is all meant to prove the applicant's willingness to eventually leave Russia and return home.
Russian authorities cited the "principle of reciprocity" for the changes in requirements, as Russian citizens must present similar certificates when applying for entry into the European Union.
Moscow has sought visa-free travel with the EU for years, and President Dmitry Medvedev has said Russia could lift visa restrictions immediately.
"Our country is ready to solve this problem - the problem is not ours," he said.
At a Russia-EU summit in Rostov-on-Don with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso earlier this year, Medvedev openly offered to end visa restrictions, hoping to accelerate negotiations. Now Russia is hoping for a deadline on visa-free travel by the next Russia-EU summit on December 12 in Brussels.
Germany belongs to those EU member states which support a gradual relaxation of visa restrictions with Russia. Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle made that clear at a meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on November 1, stipulating that there were still many details the EU had to clear up.
Medvedev has told EU leaders Russia is ready to drop visa requirements
Thus Berlin has shown little understanding for the most recent tightening of visa restrictions, and the Foreign Ministry stated it would not accept the restrictions without protest.
The Bundestag also criticized Russia's move, with parliamentarian Marina Schuster of the foreign affairs committee saying she was "surprised that Russia has taken this step," which moved the process backwards.
"The goal should be for both sides to make advances toward visa freedom - and Lavrov and Westerwelle also discussed this," she told Deutsche Welle.
Quid pro quo
However, Hans-Henning Schroeder from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs said Russia's tightening of visa restrictions was a completely normal diplomatic step.
"The Schengen zone makes certain demands of Russian applicants for visas, and now Russia is simply making the same demands," he said, referring to Europe's border-free travel area. This may be bothersome, he added, but it is not unusual.
Schroeder said one should not assume that the tighter visa requirements would have consequences for negotiations on visa-free travel.
"There won't be visa-free travel without compromises," he said. "Rather it's a negotiation process, and the Russian side has to bring bargaining power to the table."
A host of questions must still be resolved, on issues like border security or readmission agreements. Schroeder said ultimately the Schengen states will hope to ensure that any ending of visa restrictions will not turn into a liability.
Authors: Viacheslav Yurin, Markian Ostaptschuk/acb
Editor: Martin Kuebler