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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Officials Signal End To Strict Visa System

Though hardly an Iron Curtain, the visa regime between Russia and the European Union is a pain for travelers and a mutual sign of mistrust between Moscow and Brussels -- but officials said Tuesday that visa requirements might soon be lifted.

"This will take numerous stages of preparation, but we are moving toward this in our dialogue with the European Union," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

His comments echoed the statements made Tuesday by the European Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Franco Frattini.

Frattini told reporters in Moscow that he hoped the terms for doing away with visa requirements would be laid out at an EU-Russia meeting Tuesday.

In a step toward visa-free travel, European Union justice and interior ministers approved on Thursday the simplification of the visa application process for short stays in EU countries. The price for short-stay visas will be set at 35 euros ($48) and be waived altogether for close relatives of EU residents and citizens, students and the disabled. The process of giving out visas will also be shortened and will have to be completed within 10 working days. The simplified visa application process will take effect on June 1, Frattini said.

At present, Russia's complex and costly visa process is the main reason that Europeans avoid coming to Russia, said Andreas Romanos, head of the Russia affiliate of the Association of European Businesses.

"It is one of our permanent headaches," he said.

Moscow's ban on Polish meat has cast a shadow over recent EU relations, as have issues of energy security since Russia cut off natural gas supplies last winter to Ukraine, which is transit state for gas exports to Europe.

"But from the business side, the relations remain excellent," Romanos said. "If we could at least arrange something for business travelers, it would be a sign of goodwill."

Peskov said the process would move forward through bilateral agreements with individual EU member states, allowing "certain categories of citizens" to enter Russia without visas, including businessmen, students, and those who travel "for humanitarian exchanges."

For Russians traveling to Europe, getting a visa is also far from simple. At the moment, requirements vary widely among the member states. The average price just to have the documents prepared for all bureaucratic procedure of applying for a visa can cost around $75, said Anna Aralushkina, an agent at the Maria Travel Agency in Moscow.

The process of getting a visa can last from five days to one month, she said, and France, Germany and Italy have the strictest requirements.

But as of Monday, things have also become harder for Russians traveling to Britain. All forms and documents must now be translated into English, a British Embassy spokeswoman said, adding that the decision was made after the number of applicants increased 17 percent during the first two months of this year.

"It became impossible to process them all," she said.