Following the recent Eastern Partnership summit in Riga, the EU added 19 countries to the list of countries that enjoy visa-free access to the EU Schengen Area.
The countries were officially approved late last year, and the visa-free access comes into effect July 1.
The 19 countries on the visa-free access list were Colombia, Peru, Dominica, St. Lucia, Grenada, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, the UAE, the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Palau, Micronesia, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, East Timor, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu.
Absent from the list were Ukraine and Georgia, much to the disappointment of those countries’ governments. European Council President Donald Tusk told Radio Free Europe, “Of course it is possible, but it is not a formal promise. We are in the middle of the process. But the progress in both countries, in Georgia and Ukraine, is really promising. If the progress is as promising as it is today, I think that 2016 is quite possible.” He added that Georgia and Ukraine have the right to the “European Dream” and that the next assessment of visa-free travel for Georgia and Ukraine could be November.
One reason that Ukraine is thought to have been left out is that European leaders may fear direct overtures with Ukraine could add fuel to the fire in the already delicate relations between Russia and the West.
Ukraine is currently dealing with a border conflict with Russia. Following the victory of pro-EU Euromaidan movement in the Ukrainian Revolution in February, Russia annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea in March. The action received widespread condemnation and economic sanctions from Western leaders. Reference to the conflict was absent from any official EU statements from the summit.
Russia, which sees former Soviet republics as its vital sphere of influence, scoffed at the planned Riga summit, saying it “has a clearly anti-Russian coloring.”