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Russia to add Gulf countries to visa-free travel list

Russia stated that it was preparing visa-free travel agreements with a total of 17 countries, which include Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Syria. 
Passengers are seen at Moscow's Domodedovo airport, the day S7 Airlines canceled all its international flights due to sanctions imposed on Russia over the country's invasion of Ukraine, March 5, 2022.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry announced on Monday that it is working to establish visa-free travel agreements with a handful of Gulf countries and Syria this week.

One year since its invasion of Ukraine and in the face of growing international scrutiny, Russia said that it was preparing intergovernmental agreements on visa-free travel with 11 countries on Sunday, which include Gulf states Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman, reported state-owned Russian News Agency TASS. 

The Bahamas, Barbados, Haiti, Zambia, Malaysia, Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago are the other countries mentioned as part of the ongoing arrangements, all of which are in various stages of approval.

On Monday, Deputy Foreign Minister Yevgeny Ivanov said that Russia is preparing agreements to simplify visa exchanges with six more countries, including Syria, reported TASS.

"In addition to India, we are also working on draft intergovernment agreements that imply mutual simplification of visa regime with Angola, Vietnam, Indonesia, Syria and the Philippines," Yevgeny said.

"However, it is important to understand that the process of negotiating such international treaties is a 'two-way street' and the pace at which they are signed depends equally on us and on our partners," the senior diplomat noted.

In some Middle Eastern countries like Lebanon, Russian passport holders can obtain a one-month visa upon entry and with no fee as long as there is no Israeli visa or seal on their passport, according to the Lebanese Embassy in Moscow.

However, Lebanese passport holders are not extended the same tourist access to Russia and must submit documentation including full payment for hotel accommodation among other proofs ahead of time, states the Russian Embassy in Lebanon on its website.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has a reciprocal visa-free travel agreement with Russia since Feb. 17, 2019, according to the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

The two-way agreement allows valid passport holders who have no intention to work or study in the UAE or Russia the right to stay in each country for a period of 90 days visa-free.

One result of such policies has been a high influx of Russian investment in the Gulf region, in markets including finance and real estate.

Rents hit historic highs in Dubai this year, and the Russian war in Ukraine is the driving force that is fueling it, contributing to the country’s recent economic gains during a global downturn, reported The Associated Press in February.

Ryan Bohl, a senior Middle East and North Africa analyst at the Risk Assistance Network + Exchange, told Al-Monitor last month that Gulf countries — mainly the UAE and Qatar — have been major recipients of Russian real estate investment along with Turkey.

Also in February, the UAE authorized a license for Russia’s MTS Bank, which is not beholden to Western sanctions and serves as an example of how the country has become a financial haven for Moscow, the Financial Times reported, raising concern among Western nations enacting these restrictions.

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