World Cup Makes Russia Review its Visa Policy

Russia should abandon the principle of reciprocity in visa matters and dramatically ease the visa regime

Most foreigners visiting Russia like what they see. This is why Russia should radically simplify the process of obtaining a visa. There are signs that this might happen in the near future.

Until now, the Kremlin has been following the reciprocity regime, the international practice of a mirror response to the actions of foreign states. This meant tightening of the visa regime every time foreign governments complicate entrance requirements for the Russians.

In private conversations, representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs admit that they don’t actually need most of the documents they request to issue a Russian visa. They requirement exists as a reaction to similar demands of foreign governments.

Now, it seems, a decision has been made to depart from this practice and simplify the issue of Russian visas.

A draft law has been submitted to the State Duma that seeks to extend until the end of the year the visas issued to World Cup fans. Earlier, this was suggested by Russian President Vladimir Putin. "I think we’ll provide visa-free entrance to Russia for foreign fans, who currently have Fan IDs, until the end of 2018. This will be a multiple entry visa-free regime," the president said.

The governor of St. Petersburg, Georgy Poltavchenko, called for the introduction of a three-day electronic visa for tourists arriving in St. Petersburg.

Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets proposed to extend the Fan ID technology to all events organized by Russia.

It has always been puzzling why Russia's visa policy remained hostage to the principle of reciprocity. The government spends enormous money on promoting “soft power”, yet hinders the simplest and most natural way of diplomacy, tourism.

Financial considerations should also be taken into account. Russia spent about 19 billion euros on the World Cup. It would be strange not to try to return some of these funds through tourism.

Russia should abolish visas for citizens of Western countries and replace them with an online registration. Such a regime already operates in some Russian regions: Primorsky Krai, Khabarovsky Krai, Kamchatka, Sakhalin and Chukotka.

Despite the sanctions, Russia remains one of the most visited countries in the world. Each year, about 25 million tourists enter the country, primarily from the US and China. The contribution of tourism to the country's GDP is about 3.4%.

Published: July 23, 2018