Duma Votes to Streamline Visa Rules

APZenit St. Petersburg coach Dick Advocaat, right, directing a training session of his team in St. Petersburg on Friday.
The State Duma has passed a bill allowing the president to wave visa requirements temporarily for foreigners coming to major events like this month's Champion's League football final in Moscow or the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

The vote Thursday came the same day the British government streamlined visa application procedures for Zenit fans traveling to the St. Petersburg club's May 15 UEFA Cup final match against the Glasgow Rangers in Manchester.

The measure granting the Russian president the new powers was initially conceived to allow guests and participants for the Olympics in Sochi to arrive without visas, said Mikhail Grishankov, the first deputy head of the Duma's Foreign Relations Committee and one of the bill's authors, Interfax reported.

But the adoption of the legislation was hurried through when it became clear how many British football fans were planning to travel to Moscow for the May 21 match between English clubs Chelsea and Manchester United.

Bolstering the Russian connection, Chelsea is owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich.

The Foreign Ministry has authorized at least 40,000 English soccer fans planning to travel to Moscow for the game to arrive in Russia on the basis of a valid ticket and a passport.

The United Russia-sponsored bill will be approved by the Federation Council at a special session Monday, Interfax reported. The legislation will then have to be signed by President Dmitry Medvedev to pass into law.

British authorities have also adopted streamlined visa applications procedures for Russian fans of St. Petersburg club Zenit, which will play in the UEFA Cup final against the Glasgow Rangers on May 15 at Manchester.

Zenit fans who applied by midnight Friday will be able to go to the visa centers in the British consulates in Moscow or St. Petersburg without the standard requirement for an appointment, Britain's Border Agency web site said.

Those fans granted visas to attend the match will receive them free of charge. Regular entry six-month British visas for Russians usually cost ?65 (about $130).

The British Embassy said in an e-mailed statement Thursday that the consulate in St. Petersburg had doubled its staff to help deal with the expected spike in applications.

At least one supporter of the St. Petersburg club was not totally pleased with the arrangement. "It is a shame that the British government has not done the same as the Russians and got rid of the visas," said Andrei Gromov, a long-time Zenit fan, who is set to make the 2,000-kilometer trip to Manchester.

While Gromov said he thought the extra staff would help make sure he received his visa in time, there were still other concerns.

"I'm still more worried by the wait for the match tickets," he said.