Estonia, Latvia see Russian hypocrisy in visa rules

RIGA (Reuters) - Estonia and Latvia accused Russia on Wednesday of being hypocritical in giving ex-Soviet citizens who live in the two Baltic states visa-free travel while talking about integration problems at the same time.

Moscow has long complained Latvia and Estonia discriminated against their 400,000 Russian-speakers by depriving them of citizenship after the fall of the Soviet Union. It has urged them to speed up a naturalization and integration process.

But Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet said giving non-citizens visa-free travel to Russia would remove any incentive for them to take up local citizenship. Since the Soviet Union fell, these residents have held no nationality at all.

“This decision unfortunately confirms Russia’s hypocrisy,” Paet was quoted by Baltic news agency BNS as saying.

Under the old rules, both Estonian citizens and non-citizens carrying “alien” travel documents needed a visa to go to Russia.

This meant that someone trying to decide whether to go through the naturalization process -- which involves tests -- might decide to do it anyway as it made no difference to requirements on entering Russia. But this is no longer the case.

“By this decision Russia actually slows down the granting of citizenship because it eliminates significant motivation for applying for Estonian citizenship,” Paet said.

The Foreign Ministry of Latvia said Russia’s move would hinder integration and hit negotiations between the European Union and Russia on easing visa requirements.

“Also, it will not ensure opportunities for non-citizens to enjoy the benefits provided by the status of an EU citizen,” it added in a statement.

Reporting by Patrick Lannin; Editing by Caroline Drees