Why a Visa-Free Regime in Not Welcome in Kiev

Translated by Ollie Richardson



Ukraine has every chances until the end of 2016 to achieve the abolition of visas for visiting European countries. However, according to a RT source in the administration of the President of Petro Poroshenko, this issue became very much secondary: the price may become too much. It became clear that before the European Parliament votes on a visa-free regime, Ukraine is likely to be obliged to carry out difficult reforms. This can include raising the retirement age and strict state control over the incomes and expenses of officials and ordinary citizens.

The news about an opening to Europe could significantly increase the rating of the Ukrainian President for another year or two. It was demanded by many Ukrainians, who in November 2013 protested in the center of Kiev against the non-signing by the then President Viktor Yanukovych of the agreement on a free trade zone in the EU. These events subsequently developed into a violent confrontation that led to the deaths of over 100 people in the center of the Ukrainian capital, and resulted in Yanukovich escaping the country. His successor, Petro Poroshenko, announced a course of European integration. The introduction of a visa-free regime has always been a priority for Poroshenko, who constantly spoke with Western diplomats about the need to simplify the rules of crossing the borders.

But the situation has changed since “Maidan”. A sharp fall in the standard of living has led to the fact that not more than 5% of the population can afford to travel abroad. It is suffice to say that in 2014 the national currency fell from 8 to 26 hryvnias per dollar, and the average salary in Kiev fell from $800 to $300 per month.

That’s why the decision of the European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs put Ukraine on the list of countries with which the EU plans to introduce a visa-free regime with did not cause elation. Compatriots, however, congratulated President Poroshenko, who stated that it was the best gift for his birthday (the vote coincided with the celebration of his 51st birthday), and several other parliamentarians.

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The European Parliament may completely abolish visas for Ukrainians. “It is important to complete the process of ratification of the Association agreement with the EU, and we expect this to happen in the near future. According to our information, provided by colleagues from the EU, this may happen in October. This is the decision on the introduction of a visa-free regime with Ukraine,” said the Prime Minister Vladimir Groysman during a meeting with the Vice-President of the European Commission Euro and Social Dialogue Valdis Dombrovskis.

Gradually, over a long time Ukraine and the EU approved the documents necessary to facilitate crossing borders, and European diplomats promised to relax the rules on issuing Schengen visas. But in practice things turned out differently. The Kiev visa centre told an RT correspondent that the right on crossing the border became more complicated to obtain: the number of failures over the past year increased by about 15-20%, and the embassies become stricter when checking the documents of financial support. “Refusals are issued even as part of a tourist group, and the Embassy of Italy, for example, may asked to print out a receipt with the balance in the account at the nearest ATM,” said the interlocutor of RT in the Kiev visa centre.

Ukraine may receive a visa-free regime as compensation for the possible lifting of sanctions against Russia in January next year, said a source in the presidential administration to RT. “Such signals are coming not only from Brussels, but from Washington,” he said.

But for Ukraine the visa-free regime disappears into the background. This is partly due to the fact that the European Union could change the rules of cooperation with third countries. For example, France and Germany insist on the possibility to temporarily suspend the visa-free regime, and propose a charge of €14 for each entry into the Schengen area. Currently a Schengen visa for Ukrainian citizens is €35, €20-25 of which pays the services of the visa center. Almost all the embassies of member countries of the agreement do not work with the applicants directly, but the documents go through an intermediary – the visa application centre.

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Granting a visa-free regime does not mean that Ukrainian citizens will only show their passport at the border, and then freely enter into countries of the agreement. At the border they will have to show proof of insurance, a return ticket, hotel booking, and also to prove their financial security.

“In fact, they may demand any reference: statement of current account or deposits, documents of the apartment, car or notarized document about sponsorship of the trip. In this case, the necessary documents can be brought to Kiev, but what to do on the border?” asked the director of a major Ukrainian tourist company in a conversation with RT.

Before the European Parliament votes on visa-free regime Ukraine will be obliged to carry out a few more reforms, said a source in the presidential administration to RT. Most likely they, in addition to the demands of the International Monetary Fund, will concern pension reform — the abolition of special pensions, raising the retirement age, as well as the opening of the land market, the sale of state-owned enterprises, and strict control over revenues and expenditures not only of officials but also ordinary citizens. It is suffice it to say that already now in Ukraine large purchases are controlled: for example, you cannot pay for purchase in excess of 150,000 hryvnia in cash.

“All of this is risky, because the population is so dissatisfied with the increases in tariffs for water supply, lighting, and heating twice in the last year,” said the source in the administration to RT, and added that Ukraine will try to delay the adoption of unpopular measures at a later date.

The fears of the Ukrainian President are clear. According to a survey conducted in July this year, the Institute of Analysis and Forecasting, the Alexander Yaremenko Ukrainian Institute for Social Research, and the “Social Monitoring Center”, the rating of Petro Poroshenko is 19.5%. The head of the party “Fatherland” Yulia Tymoshenko has slightly less with 19.4%, and in third place is the leader of the party “Self-Help” – Lvov mayor Andriy Sadovyi. Poroshenko doesn’t hide that he intends to run for a second term in 2019, and therefore will make concessions to voters. For example, the government plans to raise the minimum wage and pensions by 10% in December of this year. All of these actions are contrary to the conditions that, according to RT’s information, will be laid out by the EU, and can postpone a vote on the visa-free regime until next year.

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