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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Eased Visa Regulations Approved

The Cabinet gave the go-ahead Thursday to amendments to visa rules that, if approved by parliament, would allow many tourists to visit Russia without visas.

The government's decision follows an appeal from the mayors of Moscow and St. Petersburg to allow tourists to obtain 72-hour visas upon arrival. Tour operators say eased rules would increase the flow of European tourists to Russia.

The changes approved by the Cabinet on Thursday would allow the government to unilaterally decide to relax visa rules for countries of its choice if the decision could boost tourism while not harming national security, the government said in a statement.

Visitors may be allowed to enter Russia without visas in certain cases, such as tourists arriving on cruise ships. The Cabinet noted at the meeting that such exceptions had been made in Soviet times.

Also, the amendments permit the government to scrap visa requirements for countries that decide to allow Russians to enter their territories without visas. Currently, such a decision can only be made via the signing of a special bilateral agreement between Russia and the other country.

Additionally, the residents of neighboring former Soviet republics and individuals without citizenship would be allowed to enter Russia without visas for humanitarian reasons. The government did not specify what constituted a humanitarian reason but suggested that it included extreme circumstances such as an emergency.

The amendments will now be sent to the State Duma for its approval. The Federation Council must then pass the bills before Putin can sign them into law.

It was unclear Thursday when the amendments will be heard by the Duma.