Posted on 14.03.2012 in Featured, News, Ukraine

Lithuania wants visa-free travel for Ukraine in 2013.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Ažubalis said he would make visa-free travel to Europe for Ukrainian citizens a priority when his country takes over the rotating EU presidency in the first half of 2013.

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania - Audronius Ažubalis

Ažubalis said pressure was growing on the European Commission to grant Russia a visa-free regime by the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. But he warned that such an opening to Moscow would put regional coherence in the Black Sea region in danger, saying Russia was less advanced than Ukraine in its negotiations for a deal on visa-free travel.

“Lithuania counted in our future presidency to get into a visa-free regime for Ukraine as one of our priorities. (…) But now I see a lot of challenges are rising in Ukraine, and the last report which was published recently shows Ukrainian shortcomings about biometric passports and so on. So that’s a big challenge for Ukraine.”

Ažubalis made the statements at a Brussels event organised by the European Policy Centre and the Poroshenko Foundation. Petro Poroshenko, one of the speakers, is a former Ukraine foreign minister and the owner of a business empire, including several confectionery enterprises, cars and bus plants, a shipyard and a TV channel.

Ukraine recently suffered setbacks in its visa negotiations with the European Union. As a precondition to visa-free travel, the EU has insisted that Ukraine establishes a state anti-corruption agency. However the initiative faces resistance in Parliament, as the Communist Party, an ally to the government, has strong positions in the country’s customs agency and is reportedly resisting the initiative. The bill to introduce biometric passports in Ukraine, another precondition for visa-free travel, is stuck in parliament. The Lithuanian minister acknowledged the setback at the December EU-Ukraine summit, which failed to move forward Ukraine’s Association Agreement with the Union, largely due to concerns over the imprisonment of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. The initial procedure provided a “creative solution” to keep relations on track “until some changes in Ukraine would appear,” he said. But he warned that this “pre-step to signing” could not serve as a long-term solution.

Source: EurActive