The head of the Consular Directorate of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Alexander Ostrovsky responds to the questions of the host of the TV program “Nedelya” on February 3, 2012.
This week the agreement with Latvia about cross-border movement has come into effect. What will be the procedure of obtaining permits in practice and how long is it going to take?
Indeed, since February 1 the Consulate General of the Republic of Belarus in Daugavpils and the Consulate General of the Latvian Republic in Vitebsk have started to accept documents for issuing of permits for cross-border movement of residents of Belarusian and Latvian border territories. I would like to draw your attention to the fact that it is not the issuance of permits that has started but the accepting documents for examination and taking a decision on whether a permit may be granted. According to the agreement, this procedure is going to take 20 days. So, the first permits are expected to be granted after February 20.
As far as I know, similar agreements with Lithuania and Poland are the next. When will they come into effect?
You are right. It so happened that in fact we started working at the same time on the text of the agreements with the three neighboring countries and we signed these agreements in consecutive order: the agreement with Poland – in February, 2010, with Latvia – in August, 2010, with Lithuania – in October, 2010. According to our information, the Lithuanian party is actively preparing to the realization of the agreement. The state of our readiness is also quite high.
Speaking about Poland, the answer to this question is completely depends on the political background of the bilateral relations which, as you know, has considerably deteriorated. And this is not the fault of the Belarusian side.
And is such cross-border movement used anywhere else?
Yes, of course. It is the practice of the European Union. The decision has been taken within the framework of the Good Neighbor Policy to facilitate the procedure of border-crossing for the citizens of the countries, bordering with the European Union.
Belarus is now considering the issue of establishing visa-free regime with Turkey. Are there any negotiations with other countries in this direction?
Yes, of course. As far as Turkey is concerned, in fact we are ready to sign the agreement on visa-free short-term travel. These are the trips that do not exceed 30 days. Everything is prepared. We have the full powers to finish the negotiations and to sign such an agreement.
Speaking about trips with national passports, the agreements there is an active work with Brazil and Argentina. The countries are rather distant, but they are quite popular among our tourists. Those are the plans for the near future. But we also have other plans.
This week has seen the unraveling of a scandal involving the Russian company “Lanta Tour”. Hundreds of tourists were affected, among them our citizens. Is there an established procedure that is followed by our consular sections in situations like this? To ensure that our tourists receive the assistance they need.
Yes, of course there is.
According to the information we have about this particular situation, several Belarusian citizens were affected by it. In case of need – and I think tourists in Thailand are well aware of this – necessary legal assistance can be provided by our embassy in Vietnam that has accreditation for Thailand and other countries of the Southeast Asia.
In some dire cases we can help through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. There are the mechanisms. Each situations needs to be addressed individually.
Speaking more generally about the support of Belarusian citizens in emergency situations, our consular personnel is well-trained in this respect, and in every country with our embassy there are employees who are always ready to provide assistance to our citizens. That is why the advice we always give, which is also on our website, is to always have the addresses, names, emails of our embassies. And not only of ours, but also of the Russian ones. We have an agreement with our Russian colleagues that they would provide assistance to our citizens in the countries that do not have Belarusian diplomatic or consular missions.
The President of Belarus has issued a decree allowing visa-free entry for participants and guests of the 2014 Hockey Cup. Are there any plans to liberalize our visa policies and is there a need for it?
You are correct, such decision has been made. In this area Belarusians have taken care of it well in advance. I think this is right. This is a significant and important step that displays the openness of Belarus, our readiness to further simplify visa procedures needed to enter the Republic of Belarus. Generally, we consider our visa rules to be quite liberal and simple; there are no obstacles to those who want to enter our country. Today the majority of European countries, in all European countries, actually, as well as in the majority of the countries of the world, all you have to do in order to enter Belarus is to come to the embassy, or rather – apply to the embassy, since it can be done by mail or by intermediary (a tourist company of some kind, if local laws allow this) – and to submit a minimal set of documents: a two-page visa application form (25 questions) and a valid passport, and to pay the visa fee. The visa is ready in five days. Tourist visa is issued in three days.
So our approaches to this are very pragmatic. We think that there is no need for further simplification or liberalization. We are absolutely open to the world.