19 October 2018
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Ambassador's Notebook: Visa Regimes: What Era Are We In?

A new era in the history of passports and visas began in the 14th century. Merchants and travelers went to foreign lands and, to make it easier to cross borders, they prepared special travel documents. These documents not only gave the holder’s name and surname, but also their hair and eye colour and even nose shape. These were the first foreign passports. Moreover, since the 15th century, countries like England issued passports not only for their nationals heading abroad but also for inbound foreigners, enabling them to travel freely about the country.

Regular citizens remained unaware of passports till 1460. By that time, beggars, tramps and thieves had virtually inundated Europe. The authorities faced the pressing task of differentiating upstanding citizens from everybody else. Thus, they introduced passports.

The first internal passports appeared in Germany. In the event, the monarchs suffered most from this development: they had to sign thousands of identity documents by hand. It was quite a while before this task was delegated to a staff of secretaries.

The French King Louis XIV also played an important role in the history of passports and visas. Most of his subjects who travelled abroad opted to leave France by sea, so predominantly needed documents to let them through a port ¬– “passe porte” in French – and thus the travel document got its name.

By the 18th century, almost all European countries had their own passport and visa systems. Visas were stamped in passports at border checkpoints as a traveler entered a foreign country.

Strange as it may seem, the idea of strict domestic passport control originated in France in the late 18th century, during the Revolution. For the first time in history, a ban on appearing in public without one’s passport was introduced by Robespierre and his allies. Anyone unable to produce their passport could end up on the guillotine.

The rapid spread of the railroad in the mid-19th century led to the collapse of the passport system. From that time on, passport constraints in Western Europe started to ease gradually. France, followed by Germany, Spain and Italy, first abolished visas and then passports. From the late 19th century to the beginning of World War I, it was possible to travel around Europe without a passport, and borders were easy to cross. By 1914, passports had fallen out of use almost everywhere in Europe, seemingly forever. But then World War I broke out.

In 1915, the passport as we know it appeared. Its design, which has remained unchanged ever since, was invented by the British: a small booklet in a cardboard cover containing information on its holder along with their photograph (for security, they decided to keep the detailed description of the passport holder: facial features, eyes, eyebrows, nose, etc). By the end of the war, every country in Europe had adopted the English-style passport.

Russia has followed in Europe’s footsteps ever since the era of Peter the Great, including its revolutionary experience.

This passport and visa heritage became entrenched during the Cold War. The question now is how it can be overcome. In order to achieve this we must first understand the era in which we find ourselves, and assess whether or not we will be able to make progress in a political environment that has changed dramatically since those days.

Consequently, the 1975 Helsinki Final Act provision on freedom of movement throughout Greater Europe was both far ahead of its time and particularly timely. If anyone believes that now, 20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, its time has still not come, then it would be interesting to hear their views on when the best time to scrap visas in Europe would be. British historian Niall Ferguson is right in saying that today’s globalization has yet to reach the depths of its pre-WWI counterpart. It is all about overcoming the heritage of the 20th century, with its two World Wars and, of course, the Cold War.

I am sure that this imperative forms part of a more fundamental general trend to the restoration of these positive aspects of European life that were lost with the formation of centralized states and the spread of nationalism. Just a glance at the European Union is enough to see that national borders are now losing significance, amid growing regionalization.

Another factor is that the old paradigm of economic development has run out of steam, so it is now possible for labor to reclaim its individual nature. It was lost as a result of the Industrial Revolution, which became one of the most important factors in the dehumanization of European society. In other words, everything is interconnected in an integrated societal organism.

I am convinced that, without constant progress in securing freedom of movement in Europe, advances in any other direction will not be possible. This in turn will have an adverse effect on Europe’s competitiveness in this radically new global environment.


27.09.2018 - Remarks by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the UN Security Council meeting, September 26, 2018

Mr President, Colleagues, In the modern world, an efficient fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is becoming increasingly important for global and regional stability and the reliable security of all states without exception. Constructive cooperation in this area is an important component of the efforts to shape a positive international agenda. I think everybody agrees that the UN Security Council resolutions that outline specific measures against violations of non-proliferation must be strictly observed. Resolution 1540 remains the basis for this and contains obligations for the member states to take specific measures to prevent non-government agents from accessing weapons of mass destruction and their components. The UNSC decisions taken in pursuance of this resolution are particularly important as they include sanctions for handing over any types of weapons to terrorists. There have been incidents of such handovers and they must be thoroughly investigated.

07.09.2018 - Remarks by Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, following the UNSC meeting on the incident in Salisbury

Q: Do you expect British sanctions on Russia soon? A: We are not expecting or afraid of anything. Taking to the account how things have been developing during the recent years we do not exclude anything. This discussion and yesterday’s speech by the British Prime-Minister in the British Parliament are not coincidental. I think that’s looks like a prelude to a new political season. Q: So, Ambassador it’s really coming from the highest level in the UK. A: It always comes from the highest level. Last time when the incident took place it also came from the highest level. Q: But it seems that you are not taking it seriously. A: We are taking it very seriously. We were saying it all the time. Why we’ve been asking for cooperation with the UK from day one. Only few minutes ago Ambassador Pierce was referring to an ultimatum that Boris Johnson made in his letter to the Russian Ambassador in London when the incident took place presented as a request by the British site to cooperate while in fact it was a demand to to accept the gilt. At the same time our requests which we sent to British authorities constantly through OPCW and bilaterally were ignored.

06.09.2018 - Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks at Bolshaya Igra (Great Game) talk show on Channel One, Moscow, September 4, 2018

Question: Today we have a special guest in our studio, one of the main participants in the “great game”, someone the future of the world really depends on in many ways: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. We are happy to welcome you in the Great Game studio. Sergey Lavrov: Thanks for inviting me.

22.08.2018 - Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's comment on UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt's anti-Russian claims

At a joint news conference following talks with Foreign Minister of Serbia Ivica Dacic Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov commented on UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt's urges to European partners to slap their own sanctions on Russia in connection with the Salisbury incident.

16.08.2018 - Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko's interview for "Salisbury Journal"

The Russian Ambassador said he stands together with the people of Salisbury in a meeting with the Journal last week, as the United States announced new sanctions against the country. Speaking at his official residence in Kensington Palace Gardens on Thursday, Alexander Yakovenko said: “We are together with the people of Salisbury.”

24.06.2018 - Greeting by Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko for the Znaniye school Family Day (Ealing, 24 June 2018)

Dear friends and guests, I am delighted to welcome you at a Family Day celebrating Russia and the World Cup. Today, Russia is the place to be for the whole world. It is a great pleasure to hear fans from all continents appreciating Russia’s hospitality, friendliness and openness to everyone. Right now, people from virtually every country see the 11 host cities, from the Baltic Sea to the Urals on the border of Europe and Asia, and realize how diverse and beautiful our country is. We’d like to bring a bit of Russia and the excitement of the World Cup to Ealing, for those who couldn’t make it to the tournament. By the way, so far both our teams are doing very well, and let us hope they keep up this good work. We cheer for both Russia and England but I’m afraid this can change if both teams meet at the semi-finals.

20.06.2018 - Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to questions at the Primakov Readings international forum, Moscow, May 30, 2018

Mr Dynkin, Colleagues and friends, Ladies and gentlemen, I am grateful for a new opportunity to speak at the international forum named after Academician Evgeny Primakov, an outstanding Russian statesman, academic and public figure. It is indeed a great honour for me. I consider Mr Primakov, with whom I worked at the Foreign Ministry in the latter half of the 1990s, my senior comrade and teacher, as probably do the majority of those who crossed paths with him at one point. Holding this representative conference under the aegis of one of Russia’s leading academic institutes – National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) that also bears Primakov’s name – has become a good tradition. The Primakov Readings have earned a reputation as a venue for serious dialogue of authoritative specialists on the most pressing issues of international politics and the global economy. Today, there is no lack of buzzwords used by politicians, experts and scientists to capture the current moment in international relations. They talk about the crisis of the “liberal world order” and the advent of the post-Western era, “hot peace” and the “new cold war”. The abundance of terms itself shows that there is probably no common understanding of what is happening. It also points to the fairly dynamic and contradictory state of the system of international relations that is hard to characterise, at least at the present stage, with one resounding phrase. The authors of the overarching theme of the current Primakov Readings probably handled the challenge better than others. In its title “Risks of an unstable world order’ they provocatively, and unacademically, combine the words “unstable” and “order”.

21.04.2018 - Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko's talking points at the Press Conference, 20 April 2018

Since we met last time a lot of events took place: - Military strikes of the United States, UK and France against Syria in violation of the international law - Mission by OPCW inspectors to Douma - Speech of Prime Minister May in Parliament in support of the British aggression against Syria - Special meeting of the OPCW Executive Council (18 April 2018) - New developments in the classified case of Salisbury poisoning of Skripal family - No meaningful developments on the Glushkov case - and Cyber security threats I plan to comment all these issues. And I will be happy to answer all our questions, if you have any.

17.03.2018 - Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko's interview for "Mail on Sunday" (full text)

Q: Bearing in mind that the US, France and Germany have said they agree with Britain that all the evidence suggests the attacks in Salisbury were the responsibility of the Russian state, what credibility can be placed on the denials issued by the Russian Government? A:We don't know if UK presented any evidence to US, France and Germany - highly likely none - but if they did, why not present it through the channels outlined in the Chemical Weapons Convention? Universal legal principle is presumption of innocence, and the burden of proof lies with the British Government. Its record includes the Iraq WMD dossier - you will remember that at some point doubting US and UK claims was considered a wild conspiracy theory. It is not any more.

26.01.2018 - Main foreign policy outcomes of 2017

In 2017, Russian diplomacy addressed multidimensional tasks to ensure national security and create a favourable external environment for our country's progressive development. Russia maintained an independent foreign policy, promoted a unifying agenda, and proposed constructive solutions to international problems and conflicts. It developed mutually beneficial relations with all interested states, and played an active role in the work of the UN, multilateral organisations and forums, including the G20, BRICS, the SCO, the OSCE, and the CSTO. Among other things, Russian policy has sought to prevent the destabilisation of international relations, and this responsible policy has met with broad understanding in the international community.

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