Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday urged the European Union to allow visa—free travel between his country and the 27—member bloc.
Russia has been unsuccessfully seeking visa—free travel to Europe for many years, but EU nations point to the violence in Russia’s volatile North Caucasus region and the nation’s porous borders with its ex—Soviet neighbours as reasons for the border controls.
Mr. Medvedev argued free travel was a necessary part of closer ties.
“If we want to develop all aspects of Russian—EU relations then we have no alternative but to strive for visa—free travel,” Mr. Medvedev said during a visit to Finland.
Mr. Medvedev also called on his host, Finnish President Tarja Halonen, for “a little help” promoting the issue in Brussels.
Ms. Halonen said the question would be decided by the union’s executive, the European Commission, cautioning that “the path, however, is not that simple.”
Brussels has offered visa—free travel to Russia’s neighbours Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus as part of “eastern partnership” deals that oblige them to commit to democracy, the rule of law and sound economic and human rights policies.
Mr. Medvedev, who arrived on Tuesday in Naantali, some 105 miles (170 kilometers) west of the capital, Helsinki, was received by Ms. Halonen at her summer residence, where he also spent the night.
On Wednesday morning, he briefly met the new prime minister, Mari Kiviniemi, before continuing negotiations with Ms. Halonen.
The presidential talks focused on bilateral questions, including newly announced tighter restrictions on imports of meat and milk products from Finland because of a change in Russian legislation. Russian food inspectors, who recently visited Finland, said some food producing plants did not meet their standards.
Both presidents said the issue would be solved within weeks.
Mr. Medvedev, who grew up in Russia’s second city, St. Petersburg, near the Finnish border, said Finnish food was safe.
“I’ve been eating Finnish food all my life and so far I’ve not fallen ill,” he told reporters.
The two leaders later left Ms. Halonen’s sea—front residence on her presidential yacht to visit a Baltic Sea maritime research centre in the Turku archipelago before continuing with more talks.
The Finnish and Russian presidents, who meet regularly, previously met in August and April last year.