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Russia: Kaliningrad's Future A Topic Of Kasyanov's Talks With EU

Brussels, 24 April 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov met officials of the European Commission in Brussels today to discuss Russia's relations with the European Union.

It marked the first joint meeting of the 20 European Union commissioners with a foreign head of government.

Speaking after the meeting, Kasyanov said the future of the Kaliningrad region dominated today's agenda. He said Russia is seeking a compromise enabling it to retain full contacts with Kaliningrad after EU enlargement.

"Here, indeed, a good compromise must be found, a good compromise decision must be reached taking into account both the requirements of the [EU's visa-free] Schengen regime, as well as the specific nature of Kaliningrad as part of the Russian Federation."

An EU official -- speaking on condition of anonymity after the meeting -- said Russia has asked for visa-free corridors through future EU members Poland and Lithuania to allow the free movement of people and goods.

Although declining to elaborate on the details of Russia's request, the EU official did indicate Russia is also seeking free access for military personnel and material.

The president of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, said today that the EU is not willing to compromise its strict Schengen rules. The EU source indicated, however, that the EU is willing to show "flexibility" over visas and the eventual customs regime. He said the EU is willing to make substantial investments to ease the impact of the imposition of full EU visa and customs regimes on Kaliningrad.

Russia and the EU today also discussed energy cooperation, Russia's impending accession to the WTO, preparations for a 29 May EU-Russia summit in Moscow, and anumber of more detailed issues brought up by the various EU commissioners.

Addressing energy cooperation with the EU, Kasyanov said the "stable provision" of oil and gas to the EU is a main priority. Currently, a little less than 20 percent of the EU's oil imports come from Russia.

The EU official quoted above also said a group of EU and Russian experts will convene in the coming weeks to discuss ways of promoting energy cooperation.

Responding to a question from a reporter, Kasyanov said he did not raise the issue of the treatment of Russians in the Baltic states, but he said Russia will continue to monitor the situation. He did say he expects the full extension of all EU human rights standards to Russian minorities in the Baltic countries.