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Lithuania: President Visits Russia Amid Tensions Over NATO, EU

Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus today (29 March) began a three-day official visit to Russia. Russia enjoys warmer relations with Lithuania than with Estonia and Latvia, but the two countries have hit a stumbling block over Lithuania's plans to join NATO and the EU -- and the consequences such moves would have on the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. RFE/RL Moscow correspondent Sophie Lambroschini reports.

Moscow, 29 March 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus arrived in Moscow today for a three-day official visit to Russia, marking what many observers call the sole "success story" in Russia's otherwise rocky relations with the Baltic states.

But Adamkus' visit is not expected to yield any significant breakthroughs. Lithuania's status as a European Union candidate and its aspirations to join NATO have created tensions in its relations with Russia, which is wary of their possible effects on its Kaliningrad exclave.

Adamkus was due this morning to meet with Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov and then with members of the Russian-Lithuanian business community.

The high point of his visit will come tomorrow (30 March), when Adamkus has talks with President Vladimir Putin and is guest at a lunch in the Kremlin. On 31 March, Adamkus will fly to Kaliningrad, a move that has been described by the Lithuanian parliament's foreign affairs committee chairman, Alvydas Medalinkas, as "showing the region's importance in Russian-Lithuanian relations."

Observers say that they do not expect any important agreements to be signed during the visit.

Arkady Moshes, a Russian scholar and author of a recent paper on Moscow-Vilnius relations, says Adamkus' visit -- the second by a Lithuanian president since the break-up of the Soviet Union -- reflects the generally positive relations between the two countries. He says Russia's relations with Lithuania are far better than those with Estonia and Latvia, which have been marred by complaints over local discrimination against Russians living in both countries.

Moshes also says the broaching of contentious issues like Kaliningrad and Lithuania's plans to join NATO may act as a test for Moscow-Vilnius relations.

"At the same time, we shouldn't forget to take into account that a real problem for Russia is Lithuania's possible entry into NATO. As long as it remains unclear whether and when Lithuania will join NATO, and what the consequences will be, we have -- regarding our relations -- [spoiled the honey] with a spoonful of tar, as we say in Russia."

Moshes says cooperation over Kaliningrad, however, has so far been fruitful, with Russian and Lithuania even making a joint request to the EU over the region's status.

But some Russian parliamentarians continue to express concern over Kaliningrad's future and its possible effect on the border treaty between the two countries. Signed in 1997, the treaty has yet to be ratified by the Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament.

Konstantin Kosachev, deputy head of the Duma's foreign affairs committee, told RFE/RL that the latest delays in ratification are a result of concern that Kaliningrad may eventually be completely surrounded by EU and NATO member states. Kosachev says Kaliningrad's status must be established before the treaty can be ratified.

"It is a condition [for ratification] that the Kaliningrad regional leadership see all questions about guaranteeing provisions for its survival as satisfactorily solved. [Border] issues, before being ratified, must have the agreement of the area of the Russian Federation that the issues concern. I think that when Kaliningrad region's leadership says 'Yes, we are satisfied with the agreements with the EU, Lithuania, Poland and [Moscow],' all current obstacles to the treaty ratification will disappear."

Kosachev says that, among other things, this means working out a special visa regime allowing Kaliningrad inhabitants to freely cross Lithuania into Russia proper.

Kosachev also said that neighboring Latvia's move to impose new visa restrictions on Russian nationals in order to conform with EU regulations would probably only make the Duma even more wary of the overall visa issue.

During a trip to Kaliningrad earlier this month, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said everything would be done to avoid increased difficulties for the area's residents. He specifically mentioned the issues of visas and the transport of goods. Ivanov also said, however, that the border treaty would not be revised.

Another issue linked to the treaty's ratification is the regulation of military transit through Lithuania to Kaliningrad, where Russia's Baltic Fleet is based.

Military transit agreements were signed between the two countries after the pullout of Soviet forces from Lithuania in 1993, but some Russian media reports have suggested that Moscow may be looking for new arrangements. The Interfax agency recently cited an unnamed Russian official who spoke of Vilnius' "unconstructive position on military transit."

Lithuania in turn believes that Russia is trying to take advantage of its desire for the treaty to come into effect to wring concessions from Vilnius.

Lithuanian conservative leader Vytautas Landsbergis has argued that if Russia insists that a long-term treaty replace the current agreement -- which is renewed each year -- the new document should be negotiated not on a bilateral basis between Russia and Lithuania, but on a tri-lateral one, with NATO the third party.

But Duma deputy Kosachev considers the transit question a part of the overall issue of guaranteeing Kaliningrad's attachment to Russia. He thinks it is bound to lose importance because, as he says, "everyone knows that Kaliningrad is not in a position to become a major military base anyway."

Kosachev says he expects an acceptable arrangement over Kaliningrad can be worked out "quickly" and ratified by the end of this year.

Duma deputy Alexander Chuyev, a member of the pro-Putin Unity faction, recently visited Lithuania as head of a parliamentary delegation. He has an even more positive outlook on the two countries' bilateral relations. Chuyev was quoted last week by the BNS agency as saying that Lithuania does not plan to isolate the Kaliningrad region, but rather is doing everything possible to increase cooperation with the region. He also said he had promised to speak to the Duma in support of quick ratification of the Russian-Lithuanian border treaty.

Another outstanding issue between the two countries is the law adopted last June by the Lithuanian parliament that demanded from Russia $20 billion in compensation for the 50-year Soviet occupation of Lithuania.

Interfax quoted Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Ivan Sergeyev yesterday (28 March) as calling the demand -- initiated by Landsbergis' Conservative Party -- "baseless" from a political, legal and historical point of view. Sergeyev said the law was "directed at aggravating relations between the two countries."

But Adamkus has refused to sign the compensation law. On Lithuanian national television recently, the president said the legislation "set Lithuania against its neighbors and runs counter to the national interests of the state." Those remarks certainly served to reassure Moscow at the outset of Adamkus' visit.