Russia in talks with Belarus over visa regime for Georgia

MOSCOW, October 3 (RIA Novosti) - Russian and Belarusian authorities are in talks over the scrapping of the visa-free regime between Belarus and Georgia, a deputy head of Russia's immigration service said Tuesday.

Starting September 28, Russia stopped issuing visas to all citizens of Georgia. On Monday, it suspended travel and postal links with the South Caucasus country, including air, rail, road, sea, and bus services. The move followed a diplomatic row last week over Tbilisi's decision to arrest four Russian servicemen on suspicion of espionage. The four were released to visiting OSCE representatives later Monday.

"Georgian citizens arrive in Russia [without obtaining Russian visas] by train from Belarus," Mikhail Tyurkin said. "We are discussing the issue and believe it will be resolved shortly."

Experts have estimated the number of illegal Georgian immigrants in Russia at around 300,000.

Tyurkin said Russia is creating a database on foreigners and stateless persons. The database, which currently comprises 30 million people, will be compatible with a Belarusian one after it is completed by the end of the year.

"Those [immigrants] who arrived in Russia legally should not be afraid," he said. "Unfortunately, Georgian citizens often ignore Russia's laws."

He said Georgians often make use of forged documents, including invitations and immigration cards, to arrive in Russia, and that Russian authorities will now open civil and criminal cases against offenders.