Russia hopes free visas will promote St. Petersburg tourism, improve image ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

St. Petersburg is known for its famous drawbridges.
St. Petersburg is known for its famous drawbridges. Source: TASS/Scanpix

This October, Russia is introducing a free electronic visa to St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast with which it hopes to promote the region's tourism industry as well as improve the country's image.

"This is a pretty good decision for Russia, as more tourists means more money," University of Tartu Narva College International Relations Specialist Ivan Polynin told ERR. He believes that the introduction of the free electronic visa will make traveling to St. Petersburg much simpler for tourists, as applying for a Russian visa is currently a fairly complicated process.

"Russia's political situation is pretty difficult, and this matter of image is likewise pretty complicated," Polynin continued. "That is why this is an opportunity for the Russian Federation to demonstrate that Russia is a peaceful country and open to dialogue. And I believe that this is the Russian president and St. Petersburg governor's idea.

Russian President Vladimir Putin began his political career in the Government of St. Petersburg.

The new free electronic visa will be valid for a period of 30 calendar days, however visitors will only be allowed to remain in Russia for up to eight days. Bases for applying for a visa include tourism but also business trips or connections in the fields of culture, sports or research.

In order to apply for the visa, an application together with a color photo must be submitted on the homepage of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs no later than four days prior to the beginning of one's trip. Within four days, a visa will be issued in PDF format which may be either be printed or shown on one's smartphone at the border. Similar visas were introduced in August 2017 for travel to the Russian Far East and last month for travel to Kaliningrad Oblast.

The free electronic visa to St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast will enter into effect on Oct. 1.

Embassy: Visa aimed at Estonians

"The Russian president's July 18 decree has already entered into effect, with which the validity of free electronic visas will be extended to include St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast," Dmitry Litskai, an adviser at the Russian Embassy in Tallinn, told ERR. "The president's decree did not yet include a detailed list of states whose citizens will be eligible for this opportunity, but it is entirely likely that as Estonia is located on the border of these regions of Russia, then this [measure] is aimed first and foremost at Estonian citizens, who can take advantage of this opportunity to move across the border."

Russia's experiences with free electronic visas thus far have been considered positive. The seaside exclave of Kaliningrad, for example, saw 20,000 people visit on electronic visas in the span of one month.

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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