Europe fears that large quantities of Afghan heroin may flood into the EU via Russia if the current visa regime is lifted.
Russia and the EU have long been talking about introducing a visa-free regime, but there are many obstacles in its way.
“There are certain things you must not forget. These are related to organised crime, to terrorism and illegal immigration,” Fernando Valenzuela, head of the EU delegation to Russia, told RT.
For the EU, the most worrying issue is drug trafficking. It is no secret that Russia’s southern neighbour, Afghanistan, accounts for 93% of all heroin manufacturing in the world. These drugs are easily transported through Tajikistan to Russia, a Russian expert in countering illegal drug trade has said.
“Any citizens of Tajikistan can load up a truck full of cabbage with heroin hidden in it, simply fill out a piece of paper saying he's taking his produce to Russia and no one will stop him at the border to check what it's inside,” Ilnur Batyrshin, head of Centre for Anti-Drug Policy Studies, told RT.
In the Russian administration, there are currently two positions on the problem.
On the one side, there is a camp arguing that borders should be even looser and that the authorities should recreate a common trade zone within the former Soviet block.
On the other side, there are people who believe that organised crime and drug trafficking are very serious problems for Russia as well.
“Both positions have their advantages: our trade relations are close and we should strive to expand them, but the border needs to be secure,” Ilnur Batyrshin said.
Whatever the opinions of the authorities are, for any visa facilitation or free regime the sides need guarantees that security will be maintained.
“For the time being we are not so much trying to set a time frame, but settling issues that need to be solved,” Fernando Valenzuela said.
Therefore, the process is going to be very slow and the times when expats will not have to go though long bureaucratic procedures are, unfortunately, still a long way off.