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Russia to allow visa-free travel for Swedes

Russia is to allow visa-free travel for Swedes who travel from Stockholm to Saint Petersburg by ferry as it seeks to persuade the EU to follow suit, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Wednesday.

In an announcement made on a visit to the Swedish capital, Putin said it was a uniltaral move but one that he hoped would ultimately lead to free travel between Russia and its European Union neighbours.

“We have decided to allow our partners (Sweden) to come to Russia, to come to Saint Petersburg, by ferry and without a visa,” Putin said at a joint press conference with his Swedish counterpart Fredrik Reinfeldt.

“This is a unilateral decision that we hope our Swedish partners, and other countries in the European Union, will appreciate and that it can serve as a step towards resolving this important issue,” Putin added.

“We share a common interest with the other European Union countries, and it is time to persuade our partners in Europe it is time for a regime of visa-free travel.”

The tourists would be allowed to remain in Saint Petersburg for 72 hours without a visa, Putin added.

Efforts by Russia and the EU to agree visa-free travel have continued for years without substantial progress.

While the EU does not require visas for nationals of some European countries outside the bloc, such as Serbia and Macedonia, it has so far rebuffed calls for waivers from Russia and other states such as Turkey.

Reinfeldt said that Sweden, as a signatory to the Schengen open-borders agreement, had no right to enter into bilateral accords with other countries.

But he added: “I hope we can reach a solution to these migration issues as I am believer in the free movement of people.”

The Schengen agreement allows for passport-free travel in large parts of the European Union although France and Italy have recently called for it to be reformed in the wake of an influx of migrants from north Africa.