The European Union and Russia are holding their 10th summit meeting in Brussels today. The two sides are expected to agree on a package of measures for Kaliningrad allowing Russian citizens "facilitated" access to the Baltic exclave next year and for the first years after the bloc's enlargement. Trade relations, security cooperation, and Chechnya are some of the other central issues that are likely to dominate the meeting's agenda.
Brussels, 11 November 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The success of today's European Union-Russia summit, although EU officials insist it has the usual "broad agenda" of all such gatherings, turns largely on one issue: the future access of Russian citizens to the Kaliningrad exclave after the impending imposition of EU visa rules. Kaliningrad is isolated from the rest of Russia and is bordered by EU candidate members Poland and Lithuania.
At the last EU-Russia summit earlier this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin described the issue as a litmus test for what he said was a budding "strategic partnership."
EU officials in Brussels were cautiously optimistic in Brussels on 8 November, saying an agreement on Kaliningrad was close. One official, who asked not to be named, said "the chances are good but it's not yet a done deal."
Any eventual deal, EU officials say, must comply with the requirements of the EU's Schengen visa regime, respect fully the sovereignty of Lithuania, and meet central Russian concerns.
Officials say a deal is on the table and the ball is in Russia's court. One diplomat put Moscow's dilemma bluntly on Friday: "The alternative to the deal on the table is no deal. That means a full visa requirement from January 1st."
The main elements of the EU offer are as follows. First, Lithuania's visa requirement against Russian citizens will be applied "in a flexible manner" between January and July next year. EU officials often refer to the introduction of visas by Lithuania as a "national" decision, glossing over the fact that it was a core EU request for closing accession talks on the Justice and Home Affairs chapter in April.
Second, from 1 July, two types of "facilitated transit documents" will be available to Russian citizens. The first is the "Kaliningrad pass" announced by Romano Prodi in September, which is essentially a multiple-entry visa. The other, is a "Facilitated Rail Transit Document," or FRTD, which is available for Russian citizens who travel by rail. The FRTD would be issued to all ticket holders at the Russian-Lithuanian border, although Vilnius would retain the sovereign right of refusing entry to any Russian citizens. Russian internal passports remain valid for travel through Lithuania until 2006.
EU officials say the details of the regime would be fixed in bilateral talks between Russia and Lithuania. It was also made clear that this arrangement would not be extended to other candidate countries.
Third, a "feasibility study" will be conducted in 2003 on whether high-speed, nonstop train links could be established allowing Russian citizens fully visa-free travel through Lithuania. No decision will be made before Lithuania joins the EU in 2004.
The final element of the deal is that the EU will commit itself to "looking into" the long-term possibility of dropping visas for Russians altogether. For this, a series of agreements must first be signed with Russia, starting with a readmission treaty of illegal immigrants. EU officials say they expect Russia to sign a readmission agreement with Lithuania by July 2003 and with the EU by the end of next year.
In other matters, the summit will also see the EU propose an action plan on terrorism, which EU diplomats say will pave the way for "practical and concrete cooperation" with Russia. Under the plan, the EU and Russia would agree on procedures for the exchange of information on individuals and groups belonging to terrorist networks and on the supply of arms and financing of such networks, and they would also work together in international forums with a view to promoting the United Nations convention on terrorism.
EU officials said on 8 November that it "goes without saying that the EU will enter into no cooperation that is not in full compliance with human rights and international obligations."
EU sources acknowledge this resolve will be sorely tested by developments in Chechnya, which they say is an issue the EU intends to raise today. EU leaders will repeat their earlier calls for a political solution to the conflict, but it is doubtful whether Chechnya will be mentioned in any joint statement should it emerge.
According to Danish officials, recent Russian extradition requests against Chechen representatives will not be discussed today.
Another important topic in today's discussions is trade relations. Last week, the EU finalized steps to grant Russia "market-economy" status, but a number of unresolved issues remain. Officials say the EU expects concessions from Russia on payment demands on commercial flights crossing Siberia, as well as improved market access for EU insurance companies, and agreement on a joint trade-dispute settlement mechanism.
The EU side will also call for improvements in the investment climate in Russia's energy sector and raise the issue of high price differentials between domestic and exported energy. This, EU officials say, presents a problem in terms of international competition and is a major obstacle to Russia's attempts to join the World Trade Organization.
Finally, the EU and Russia will also discuss security and defense cooperation. EU sources say Russia will be invited to "fully participate" in the first EU crisis-management operation, a policing mission in Bosnia that will start on 1 January.
The EU will also continue efforts to enlist Russian cooperation in providing its fledgling defense project with long-haul air-transport capabilities.
An important part of the security discussions with Russia will be the country's relations with its neighbors.
On Georgia, one EU official said Friday, the EU will stress that Georgia needs to do "its utmost" to combat terrorism. On the other hand, Russia will be told that Georgia's territorial integrity must be "absolutely respected."
The EU will express concern over developments in Belarus and the growing tendency of authorities there to undermine human rights and reject cooperation with international organizations. EU officials say the bloc expects that Russia will use its influence with the Belarusian leadership to improve matters.
The EU will also express "concern" about delays in Russian withdrawal of ammunition and troops from Moldova. This violates commitments undertaken by Russia in the OSCE framework, according to which the withdrawal was to be completed by the end of this year. Officials say the EU will "apply pressure" on Moscow to come up with a new definitive timetable.