By Valentinas Mite/Ahto Lobjakas
Next week, Russia and the European Union will continue consultations on the problem of Russian transit to its western exclave of Kaliningrad. Russia wants visa-free transit through Lithuania and Poland to Kaliningrad after both countries join the EU. However, Brussels is not inclined to compromise on the integrity of its borders and legal system. Some Russian analysts say Russia is more interested in putting pressure on the EU than it is concerned with the problems of the exclave's residents.
Prague, 17 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The talks between the European Union and Russia concerning transit to the Kaliningrad exclave, due to take place on 23 July in Brussels, are not expected to achieve major progress.
Both sides have signaled they intend to stick to their positions. The EU insists that Lithuania and Poland -- future EU members -- will need to apply a visa regime to Russian citizens traveling through Kaliningrad. EU officials indicate that Brussels will not jettison the basic integrity of its borders and legal system. Speaking off the record, EU officials have said the sovereignty of Poland and Lithuania will not be compromised.
In turn, Russia is insisting on special status for the residents of Kaliningrad. Russia says the introduction of visas could be equivalent to what it calls a "division of sovereignty."
A spokesman for European Commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs Leonello Gabrici told RFE/RL that it is difficult for Brussels to compromise on the border issue. "Normally, the external borders are external borders and internal borders are internal borders. I mean, you cannot have a border with two things at the same time," the spokesman said.
Lithuania and Poland, which expect to join the EU in 2004, plan to introduce visas for the residents of Kaliningrad in the middle of next year. Until that date, residents of Kaliningrad will continue to enjoy nonvisa passage.
The EU officials told RFE/RL that the EU is ready to look at easing transit and border crossings and will help issue international travel passports to the exclave's residents. The EU is also offering cooperation on fighting illegal immigration and crime. EU officials say the EU is prepared to look into setting up a fund to assist economic development in Kaliningrad, investing nearly 30 million euros ($30.35 million).
The EU has already given Kaliningrad 40 million euros, 25 million of which have already been used.
The visa issue has already soured meetings between Russian and European diplomats in Moscow in May and in Seville last month. Russian President Vladimir Putin called the EU's position "worse than the Cold War because it divides the sovereignty of Russia." He said Russia would never agree to that.
Analyst Kiril Koktysh of the Moscow Institute of International Relations says the Russian position is justified. The problems of Kaliningrad for a long time were not the focus of Russian politics and internal political debate. Today, the situation has changed.
Koktysh says the firm Russian position on Kaliningrad is due to the fact that Russian voters are concerned now more than ever with the integrity of Russia in the eyes of the world.
Koktysh said he is sure an agreement on Kaliningrad will not be reached next week in Brussels. "There is a deadline to agree [on Kaliningrad], and this deadline is put at the end of this year. I do not think that the negotiating sides will hurry with the agreement," Koktysh said.
Mikhail Malyutin is an adviser to the president of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, Arkadii Volskii. He said Russia is trying to put pressure on the EU, not because it is concerned about people living in the exclave but because it wants to show it is a major world player and that the EU should take its views into account.
Malyutin told RFE/RL that the residents of Kaliningrad have their own interests and preferences. Most of the residents of the region "haven't been in Russia [proper] for a long time," he said. "The statistics that I have seen show that even under [current] travel regulations, less than 10 percent [of Kaliningrad residents] traveled to Russia [proper] during the period of 1992 to 2002," Malyutin said.
Malyutin said that nearly 34 percent of Kaliningrad's residents have traveled to Europe. EU officials also told RFE/RL off the record that 70 percent of all Kaliningrad residents have never been to Russia proper.
Malyutin said economic relations between the exclave and Russia are weak and that Belarus is more interested in the port of Kaliningrad than Russia. He said local leaders need financial support from Moscow but don't want the federal government to interfere in its internal problems.
Malyutin said that without fundamental changes in relations between Russia and the EU, a breakthrough in the negotiations on Kaliningrad is impossible. He said the present situation is largely caused by the orientation of the Russian government and the country's political elite toward the United States after the events of 11 September. However, he said changes in the world economy, especially the fall of the dollar, could have an impact. "The majority of the Russian elite is oriented toward the U.S. and the dollar. However, the real [Russian] economic interests are in Europe. I think that variations in the rates of world currencies and changes in the economic situation in the world can have an impact on the negotiations over Kaliningrad," Malyutin said.
Some changes in Russian policy are taking place, however. The Russian daily "Izvestiya" reported that Andrei Stepanov, deputy presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District, announced yesterday that by 2004 all Kaliningrad residents will be provided with external passports, a development similar to what the EU envisions.