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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moscow to Offer Visas on Arrival

The time-consuming hassle of getting a weekend tourist visa to Moscow may soon be just a painful memory.

The city of Moscow has penciled in an agreement with the Foreign Ministry allowing travelers to obtain three-day visas upon arrival at Sheremetyevo Airport, the Mayor's Office said Tuesday. St. Petersburg has reached a similar deal.

The cost of the new visas has not yet been determined, although Moscow said it will be less than the current $50 fee charged U.S. nationals for tourist visas of up to 30 days. St. Petersburg City Hall said the cost could be about $25.

It is also unclear when travelers will be able to stop applying for visas at the local Russian consulates and pick up the visas on arrival. Moscow city authorities said it expected the new visa regime to be in place in a matter of months.

"Those who want to have a long weekend abroad often avoid going to Russia fearing visa problems. By giving these people easier and speedier access, we can increase the number of visitors," said Grigory Antyufeyev, an architect of the three-day visa proposal.

Antyufeyev, who heads the Moscow city government's tourism committee, said he helped draw up the visa plans under orders from Mayor Yury Luzhkov to increase the number of deep-pocketed — and particularly European — tourists to the capital.

"Americans are also welcome, but given the short duration of the visas they are likely to use this kind of service less frequently," Antyufeyev said by telephone Tuesday.

"I am not pursuing any goals in international politics," he added, referring to recent tit-for-tat measures taken by Russia against U.S. citizens after the United States introduced transit visas for Russian travelers.

"I only am here to fulfill the decision of Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov to increase the flow of tourists to the city," he said.

Antyufeyev said the city government has been discussing easing visa regulations with the Foreign Ministry for about a year. A protocol on three-day visas was recently signed, and the two sides are now working on implementing it.

The average tourist spends 3.4 days in Moscow, so the three-day visa should be very popular, Antyufeyev said, citing City Hall estimates. More than 1 million foreigners a year visit Moscow, he said.

Antyufeyev declined to set a date for when the new visas will be available, saying only that they will be offered within months.

"[Moscow] is not planning to spend years setting up the new system," he said.

St. Petersburg officials said they struck an agreement with the Foreign Ministry last week to allow three-day visas to be granted on arrival in Pulkovo Airport and the Russian-Finnish border crossing at Torfyanovka and Brusnichnoye near the town of Vyborg.

Deputy Foreign Minister Ivan Sergeyev said Russia is interested in boosting the flow of tourists.

"Last year as an experiment we allowed cruise ships to stop over in the Russian Far East," Sergeyev said in televised remarks Tuesday night.

"More than 15,000 tourists from South Korea and China visited the Far East while the seas were ice-free," he said. "If one assumes that each of them spends $500 while in Russia, the math speaks for itself."

Sergeyev's numbers add up to $7.5 million.

Antyufeyev said that under the three-day visas travelers will only be able to visit one city — the city of their arrival.

He said visas would be issued upon arrival to tourists whose names had been forwarded to the border authorities by travel agencies. Travelers also will have to show confirmations from travel agents that they are eligible for the visas. Airlines flying tourists to Russia will be asked to check for the confirmations before allowing the passengers onboard.

Special facilities will be set up at Russian passport checkpoints to hand out the visas on arrival.

"Effectively, tourists will be able to completely bypass the embassy by submitting all the necessary documents only to the tour operator," Antyufeyev said.

Travel agencies will be held responsible for the tourists, he said.

If tourists are caught leaving the city limits, they will be punished under Russian law.

Penalties could range from a small fine to being deported.

The practice of allowing tourists to only travel to predetermined destinations is common worldwide.

Tour operators, meanwhile, cautiously welcomed the proposed relaxed visa rules.

"It will be great if it really works out," said Tatyana Piontkovskaya, a partner at Patriarshy Dom Tours. "There is bound to be an increase in the number of visitors.

"But let's first see if this great idea is put into practice and figure out who and how the service will be provided. There is still a number of questions that have to answered."