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EU Will Review Visa Proposal, But Quick Changes Unlikely

The European Union will "study" a Kremlin proposal on introducing visa-free travel, but no changes to tough border restrictions are planned, a senior diplomat said Wednesday.

"A draft agreement was presented by the Russian side [at the EU-Russia summit] and we will study it," Michael Webb, deputy head of the EU delegation to Moscow, told reporters.

There is no consensus on the issue among EU states, meaning that there can only be a "step-by-step approach" to changing visa rules, he said, adding that the next move would be discussions at the "senior official level."

President Dmitry Medvedev surprised EU leaders at Tuesday's summit in Rostov-on-Don by handing them a finished draft agreement for visa-free travel between Russia and the so-called Schengen group of European countries.

The draft, based on a 2008 agreement with Israel, enables government officials to enquire about its fate at future talks, forcing Brussels to regularly explain its position, Kommersant reported Wednesday, quoting a Foreign Ministry source.

Webb admitted that the move was unexpected but denied that it gave extra leverage to Moscow.

"We know very well that they will regularly raise [the subject], but we will respond as we did in Rostov," he said.

Medvedev said at the summit that the reservations among EU member states had nothing to do with reality and that it was up to the 27-member bloc to decide when to lift restrictions. Russia, he said, was ready to do it immediately.

Several EU members are against giving visa privileges to Moscow before a group of six post-Soviet states with whom the EU launched the so-called Eastern Partnership last year.

They also have raised concerns about Russia's border security.

Experts have noted that some EU governments are not prepared to explain to their electorates that they are lifting visa requirements for multiple East European countries all at once.

Last week, the EU promised visa-free travl to Bosnia and Albania, two impoverished Balkan states.

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