KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysians are set to enjoy visa-free visits to Russia, increasing their options for a European holiday.
Negotiations with Moscow for the visa exemption, which started about five years ago, are in the concluding stages.
Russian tourists can already visit Malaysia without a visa and stay up to 30 days.
Russian Ambassador to Malaysia Lyudmila G. Vorobyeva said her government was looking forward to concluding the bilateral agreement with Malaysia.
“The discussions have been fruitful and we will have an agreement soon. This will be an important achievement for us,'' the envoy said in an interview to commemorate the 20th Russia Day celebrations today.
Last year, some 16,000 Malaysians travelled to Russia while about 40,000 Russians came here.
Malaysians have to apply for visas by submitting their travel package/letter of invitation to the Russian embassy, with the pro-cessing period taking up to a week.
Presently, Malaysians can enter all 27 European Union (EU) countries visa-free (for up to 90 days) for non-work purposes plus four non-EU countries which take part in the Schengen system (Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechten-stein).
Vorobyeva said Malaysia should tap the huge Russian tourism market, adding that about one million Russians travelled to Thailand and 200,000 to Vietnam and Indonesia last year.
“I believe Malaysia has more natural attractions to offer Russian tourists. Sabah, Sarawak and Langkawi are our sought-after destinations,'' she said, adding that Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen's visit to Russia last year had paved the way for tourism co-operation.
The envoy also said a joint commission mechanism would be established this year to provide a platform for closer bilateral cooperation.
On education, Vorobyeva urged Malaysian students to explore other courses besides the medical degree programme, such as oil and gas and aircraft engineering.
“Russia maintains a very high standard of education and there is the value-for-money factor to consider too,'' she added.