Warsaw, 12 January 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Poland's recent moves to tighten up its eastern border controls have brought immediate curtailment of cross border traffic and sparked protests from Moscow and Minsk.
About two weeks ago (Dec. 27) Poland enacted a law requiring foreigners entering Poland without a visa either to prove they have the financial resources to pay for their stay, or provide a hotel reservation slip, or show an official invitation from a regional Polish authority.
Previously, visitors from the former Soviet Union needed only a voucher or invitation signed by a notary to cross the border.
The Polish authorities said the changes were necessary to crack down on a burgeoning black market in invitations that were being used by illegal traders and travelers.
Border traffic dropped by more than 80 percent in the first eight days of 1998 as Polish border guards turned back Russians and Belarusians who failed to produce proper invitations.
The Polish Interior Minister Janusz Tomaszewski said today at a news conference in Warsaw that Moscow and Minsk ignored information supplied to them in November about the new rules.
"The new regulations stem from Poland's international obligations dealing with integration process with the European Union," he said. "I hope the new regulations will get a positive assessment in the EU."
Deputy Interior Minister Wojciech Brochwicz said at the same conference the Polish regulations brought Poland closer to the rules operating in the EU as they will help to combat illegal immigration.
"The combating of illegal immigration is one of the chief problems for the EU," he said.
The Russian and Belarusian media, neither of which carried the factual information, charged Poland with discrimination after the new rules came into effect, the Polish Foreign ministry said.
Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman Pawel Dobrowolski said all diplomats accredited in Poland had been informed in mid-November about the new provisions. "Special briefings were made and only the Russian and Belarusian representatives were absent," he said.
Dobrowolski said Poland, which is aspiring to join the European Union, had to tighten up its eastern border. "It is natural that Poland as a country aspiring to the EU is setting its eastern border in order, as it may soon become an EU eastern border," he said. Dobrowolski said the complaints by Russia and Belarus are unfounded.
Problems with Russia and Belarus stem from the fact that the two countries have refused to sign so-called re-admission agreements with Poland under which they would have to take back those who entered Poland illegally from their territory.
Poland has signed agreements of this kind with 61 countries. The agreements entitle the citizens of those countries to enter Poland without visas.
Polish border guard official Marek Bienkowski said border traffic between Poland and Ukraine and Lithuania is running without any disturbances.
Artur Kuznetsov, the Russian foreign ministry's representative in the Russian Kaliningrad enclave bordering on Poland today told a Russian news agency (ITAR-TASS) that an agreement on visa-free travel to Poland for Russians is being drafted.