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EU/Russia: Consultations Fail To Break Kaliningrad Deadlock

By Ahto Lobjakas/Francesca Mereu

Brussels/Moscow, 24 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- A meeting of European Union and Russian officials in Brussels today failed to break the deadlock over Kaliningrad's access to mainland Russia after EU enlargement.

Emma Udwin, a spokeswoman for the European Commission, indicated no notable progress had been made. She described the two-hour meeting as a "useful informal contact."

"The purpose of the meeting was to make clear what is intended in the study that the commission has been asked to carry out following the Seville [summit], and it was a useful exchange of explanations of the positions of the two sides," Udwin said.

Udwin said the EU had repeated its long-standing position that any solution must remain within EU laws and be acceptable to Poland and Lithuania. She said this means Russian citizens traveling through the EU between Kaliningrad and Russia proper must in the future be in possession of an international passport and an EU visa.

Udwin said that the EU was, however, ready to show "flexibility" within the Schengen visa regime to ease the passage of Russian travelers to and from Kaliningrad. An EU diplomat told RFE/RL yesterday that the EU is prepared to invest "substantial sums" into helping Kaliningrad modernize its border-crossing facilities, to issue international passports to residents, and to train border personnel.

Another EU official, also present at this morning's meeting, said it had been the intention of the EU delegation to make sure that, "Russia could not walk away from the meeting claiming they do not know what is possible and what is not possible."

Udwin said the Russian side had today repeated its "very strong" demand for the visa requirement to be dropped.

Udwin said the Russian side had made no mention of the package of measures Russian President Vladimir Putin's special Kaliningrad envoy Dmitrii Rogozin has said he will present to the Russian president this weekend.

In an interview published in yesterday's "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Rogozin said Russia views Kaliningrad as a "litmus test" of how far Russia can go in exercising control over "its own territory."

Kaliningrad's governor, Vladimir Yegorov, told journalists in Moscow today that Russia has proposed a solution to the problem of transporting people via Lithuania between the exclave and Russia proper with no risk of visa or customs violations. "We are proposing that people travel [to Russia] by train with all the doors locked, as they do it on trains. If it is not convenient for Lithuania that the train make that single stop in Vilnius, it is possible to pass through Vilnius without stops," Yegorov said.

Yegorov added that, "Russia has even proposed that Lithuanian border guards could get on [the train] when it enters the Lithuanian territory and leave it when it enters the territory of either Kaliningrad Oblast or Belarus."

The Kaliningrad governor urged a visa-free solution to the issue, saying a visa regime could further isolate exclave residents from Russia proper. He said 90 percent of Kaliningrad's economy is tied to that of Russia, and any travel restrictions would hit the exclave hard.

But in Brussels today, an EU diplomat told RFE/RL the EU rejects claims that access to Kaliningrad is a question of Russia's territorial integrity. He said, "The EU, and the EU only, decides what takes place on its territory [which will, after enlargement, extend to Poland and Lithuania]."

EU officials also gave short shrift to Rogozin's suggestion that Russia be made exempt from the Schengen visa requirement, like more than 20 other countries across the world. They said that while this solution has not been ruled out, it would require longer-term talks with Russia, as opposed to Kaliningrad, which is a "short-term, immediate problem."

The EU has previously criticized Russia for not signing a treaty with the EU on the readmission of third-country nationals, which the EU says is a key requirement for the dropping of the Schengen visa requirement. EU officials have in recent months also said Russia has shown no interest in easing its own visa requirements that are applicable to EU citizens.