When Will Moldova Impose a Visa Regime with the CIS Countries?

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Christian RUSSU
Moldova is the first of the EU accession candidate countries from the eastern Europe to start implementing the EU visa policy. This means that the cancellation of visa-free travel with CIS countries, including Russia, is only a matter of time
On 28 March, the foreign ministry leadership lobbied in parliament for the denunciation of the visa-free agreement with Ecuador. The situation was presented quite routinely. As they put it, Moldova has been benefiting from visa-free travel with the European Union since 2014, yet we haven’t bothered so far to bring our legislation in line with the EU’s visa policy. The explanatory memorandum to the draft law, signed by Secretary General Mihai Mitu, included derogatory language such as “repeat debtor” (Romanian “restantier recidivant”) when referring to Moldova’s current level of fulfilling its obligations. We’re about to start EU accession negotiations, and suddenly this talk about Ecuador. What’s the point of that? Especially when the annual trade turnover with Ecuador is less than 300 thousand dollars, and that, of course, is only bananas. When the European integration and bananas are on the scales, there’s no need to think twice. However, the question arises, when and why was it signed? This was done in 2012, i.e. by already shrewd politicians from the pro-European alliances. At that time, it was presented as an important foreign policy achievement, in no way conflicting with the European course. It becomes even more interesting when you discover that it took quite a while to settle all the formalities concerning the agreement, almost by late 2015. That is, they might not have introduced visa-free travel with this “banana republic”, almost two years after receiving a similar regime with the EU. By the way, we are not alone in such tardiness. For example, Ukrainians achieved visa-free travel with Ecuador only in April 2020. The then-foreign minister of the neighboring country, Vadym Prystaiko, proudly noted that his ministry continued to “open doors” for its citizens. Following the logic of Moldovan diplomats, Ukraine is also a “persistent offender” in violating its obligations to the European Union. After all, this country has the same obligations to Brussels as ours, and arguments along the lines of Kyiv being given visa-free travel only three years after us are not rather valid. References to the existence of inconsistencies in the EU visa policy and direct indications of the need to eliminate them by revising the visa-free regime for the countries with which Brussels has it, appeared in the reports of the European structures only by 2021, and simultaneously to both Kyiv and Chisinau. Moreover, in their recommendations, European officials focused on third countries that pose a threat to illegal migration or EU security but have a visa-free regime with states like Moldova. And here I should note that Syria, Somalia, Nigeria, Tunisia or Afghanistan are not on our list of “visa-free states”. As for the European Commission’s first reports to the European Parliament on the visa suspension mechanism with Moldova and Ukraine, the main complaints against both countries were related to their failure to implement urgent measures to fight corruption. At the same time, we were required to take immediate action against money laundering. Therefore, if we have to admit our negligence in terms of adopting European standards and values, we should do it directly and honestly, without resorting to the denunciation of the visa-free agreement with an exotic republic from Latin America to justify our failures. Looking at the EC’s instructions with regard to other candidate countries, in the Western Balkans, for example, the need to introduce a visa regime with third countries is stated not as recommendations, but as strict requirements, which, by the way, are not met very quickly, despite traditionally higher migration risks there. Our politicians have always been not very straightforward and honest, so it was predictable. Our authorities want by all means to stand out among the three candidate countries, and in the absence of special successes in really important areas of European integration, such as the fight against corruption, they fulfil secondary and obviously not urgent obligations. Halting this process now will be impossible. The upcoming report will definitely urge Moldova to keep up the same momentum, and may even provide a boost. When speaking in Parliament, the foreign ministry official certainly did not mention the fact that in the near future, which means a year or two given the current pace, Moldova will cancel visa-free travel with all countries that do not have the same regime with the European Union (including Russia and other CIS countries). And he recognized this as inevitable only after inquiries from the opposition MPs, who in fact are not too keen on preserving humanitarian ties with the former USSR countries. Out of the total number of deputies in the factions of communists, socialists and SOR, who seem to be inclined towards integration associations involving Russia, only twelve voted against the actual revision of Moldova’s visa-free regime with its partners abroad. This decision is rather convenient for Romania, which since 31 March has partially entered the Schengen area and is strongly determined to secure a decision on full integration into the EU’s border space by the end of the year. Given these plans, it is certain that Bucharest will actively push our authorities to close the chapter on the “common visa-free space within the CIS” in Moldova’s history. Statements by Mr. Mitu that the authorities take into account all the consequences and will change the regime with states “with minor impact on citizens” are also interesting. Maybe that is why we constantly hear that our trade turnover with Russia is steadily declining, that there are no plans to open air links with Russia in the near future, and so on. It is not a secret that many Moldovans living in Russia keep their documents at hand. If, hypothetically, a visa regime was to be introduced tomorrow, such citizens would not be greatly affected by these measures, and they would be able to get home if necessary. At least, this is how our officials will argue their decisions. As for business, cultural and tourist contacts, they are already reduced to zero because of the severe entry restrictions. Of course, it is not certain that Russia will be the next country to abolish the visa regime. They could start with Cuba, or the Central Asian republics of Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. They will probably recall the nationality of the man who shot at our airport last year, or even take into account the origin of the terrorists who staged the massacre at Crocus City Hall. It is unlikely that anyone in parliament or among the public would object to such measures. And then the time will come to introduce a visa regime with Russia in the hope of a positive response to such symbolic moves in Brussels.