Russia is to allow Taiwanese to travel to more areas, including St Petersburg and the Leningrad region, on free e-visas amid remarkable growth in bilateral visits, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said yesterday.

The decision is “a great present for the Mid-Autumn Festival,” the Moscow-Taipei Coordination Commission on Economic and Cultural Cooperation Office in Taipei wrote on Facebook.

The Russian government in June included Taiwan on its eligibility list for free e-visas for entry at the free port of Vladivostok — the biggest city in eastern Russia — and in July added Kaliningrad, the ministry said.

From next month, St Petersburg and Leningrad are to be added to the e-visa allowance list for Taiwanese, it said.

Most Taiwanese visiting Russia stay in its European regions, with St Petersburg being one of the most popular destinations, so the measure would greatly facilitate Taiwanese travel to the region, it said.

Since the ministry on Sept. 6 last year announced a 14-day visa waiver trial program for Russians, the number of Russians visiting Taiwan from January to July grew by 96.6 percent from the same period last year, it said.

The upsurge in tourists also led to the addition of more direct flights between the two nations, it added.

In May, Russian carrier Royal Flight resumed weekly flights between Taipei and Moscow following a three-year hiatus, while Siberia Airlines has launched weekly flights between Taipei and Vladivostok.

The number of Taiwanese visiting Russia is estimated to exceed 30,000 this year, an increase of nearly 60 percent from last year, the ministry said.

Given the positive effects of the visa waiver program for Russians, the ministry in July renewed the program for another year and extended the length of stay from 14 to 21 days.

While the government used to conduct yearly evaluations to determine whether to extend trial visa waiver programs for Russian, Thai, Philippine and Bruneian visitors, it would instead evaluate them every three years starting from when the next evaluations are due on July 31 next year, the ministry said.