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EU, Russia approve "common steps" towards visa-free travel


09:06, December 16, 2011

BRUSSELS, Dec 15 (Xinhua) -- Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and top leaders from the European Union (EU) on Thursday agreed to start talks on visa-free travel.

According to a statement issued by the EU, the two sides had agreed on a number of "common steps" towards visa-free travel, such as introducing biometric passports and preventing illegal migration.

"Approving the common steps, and amendments on the visa-waiver agreements is an important step further to visa free travel, and opens up for more people-to-people contacts," European Council President Herman Van Rompuy told press conference following the summit.

"This will further open up Russia to the EU and the EU to Russia," he said.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, meanwhile, warned that the lifting of EU visa requirements on Russian travelers was still years away.

"The goal is to have a visa free region but this will probably not happen next year. That's a longer term goal," he said.

According to Barroso, journalists, people from civil society organizations and business people would be the first to benefit from the EU visa facilitation provisions.

Also on Thursday, the EU leaders celebrated the accession of Russia to the World Trade Organization, which is officially scheduled to take place on Friday in Geneva.

Van Rompuy described it as leverage for Russia's modernization. "It opens a myriad of new opportunities for trade, investment and global growth," he said.

The "irregularities" of the Russian Duma election earlier this month was also been touched on the summit. And Medvedev defended the validity of it.

Asked to comment on a call by Members of the European Parliament for the re-run of the Duma election, Medvedev said, "This is our election, the European Parliament has no relation to it. The European Parliament should deal with European issues."

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