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English fans reassured over visas for Moscow

LONDON, April 30 (Reuters) - Russia will ensure fans travelling to next month's all-English Champions League final in Moscow get visas but said the process would have been easier if diplomatic ties with Britain were better.

Manchester United, who will face either Chelsea or Liverpool in the May 21 final, said on Wednesday fans would be able to get visas more easily than usual if they followed club guidelines.

'Supporters travelling with charter flights approved by the club will benefit from an unprecedented facilitated visa procedure that will be detailed in the days to come,' United said in a statement on their website.

The Russian consulate in London sought to reassure thousands of fans hoping to travel that they would get their visas despite the tight timeframe. Postal applicants are usually advised to allow 10 days for processing a tourist visa.

'When Moscow was given the privilege of hosting this major sports event, the Russian side pledged to create most favourable conditions, including travel arrangements, for all the people attending the final,' the consulate said in a statement.

'We intend to fulfil our obligations and ensure that all the supporters will be able to travel to the final venue.'

Moscow and London are locked in a row over the 2006 murder of Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko, involving diplomatic expulsions, angry rhetoric and a tightening of procedures for issuing visas by both countries.

The Russian consulate said visa processing for fans would have been easier if this row was not going on and that it would be making life easier for British fans than London was making it for Russian fans travelling to Britain for matches.

'We are certain that the situation would have been far less complicated if the United Kingdom government had not chosen, in July 2007, to suspend negotiations on a bilateral visa facilitation agreement with Russia and to impose a stricter approach to Russian nationals applying for UK visas,' the consulate's statement said.

'The arrangements that we will put in place will be substantially more favourable than those for Russian football team supporters who are planning to travel to the UK.'

It said fans of Zenit St Petersburg, hoping to beat Bayern Munich on Thursday to reach the UEFA Cup final in Manchester, had been told their British visa applications would include a biometric test and possible interview with consulate officials.

European soccer's governing body UEFA confirmed it had been told visa processing would be quicker than usual if supporters went through their clubs.

'Fans have to apply directly through their clubs. They have to get tickets and then with the help of a ticket they can get a visa a bit quicker than usual,' a UEFA spokesman said.