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Russia: Focus Is On Lithuania In Battle For Kaliningrad Visa Concessions

By Ahto Lobjakas and Valentinas Mite

Russia this week handed the European Union a new set of proposals aimed at resolving the deadlock over the transit of people and goods between Kaliningrad and Russia's mainland following enlargement. The new Russian proposals focus almost exclusively on visa-free travel through Lithuania and ignore Poland. EU authorities in Brussels are refusing to comment on the proposals, while Lithuanian politicians say the new proposals are unacceptable.

Brussels/Prague, 5 September 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Dmitrii Rogozin, Russia's special envoy for Kaliningrad, took to Brussels earlier this week a "memorandum of intentions" containing Russia's latest proposals for nonvisa travel for the residents of its western enclave.

Russia seeks nonvisa travel for Russian citizens through Poland and Lithuania after those countries join the European Union, expected in 2004. Previous negotiations between Russia and the EU on this topic yielded little progress.

What is new about the latest proposal is its near-exclusive concern with Lithuania, while demands affecting Poland seem to have been dropped altogether.

Russia's preferred solution, according to the memorandum, is to ensure continued visa-free movement of its citizens between Kaliningrad and the mainland on special buses and trains traveling through Lithuania.

On 2 September, EU officials initially described the new proposals as "constructive." The next day, the EU's External Affairs spokeswoman, Emma Udwin, adopted a more cautious line.

"We need to do more work to study the detailed proposals submitted by Russia yesterday (2 Sept.), and I don't want to comment on its details today because we're still working on our own proper proposals. But what we said was that the proposal indicates that Russia is ready to make an effort to seek a flexible solution before the [EU-Russia] summit in November, and the EU is also working to find an effective and flexible solution."

In the memorandum, Russia seeks "simplified land transit" by bus and train for its citizens via Lithuanian territory. These arrangements would be available to every Russian citizen in possession of a valid international or domestic passport. Apart from checks at borders, Russia suggests as an additional control mechanism passport checks at the purchase point of transit tickets. The memorandum says that ticketing outlets would be run by Russia, but passport information on travelers "may be submitted in advance to the Lithuanian authorities."

The proposal also says Russia and Lithuania could jointly draw up lists of Russian citizens whose criminal backgrounds would make their transit "undesirable" for Lithuania. If necessary, the document says, Russian authorities could prevent such persons from buying tickets for land transit. Russia also suggests specific routes for transit trains and buses, which would not be allowed to let off or take on passengers while on Lithuanian soil.

Russia accepts that its subjects traveling through Lithuania by car would need visas, but suggests this should be done "under a simplified procedure, including visas issued directly at the border."

The document says Russia would compile lists of Kaliningrad residents engaged in cross-border business activities who would be issued -- under a "simplified procedure" -- "inexpensive long-term, multiple-entry" Lithuanian visas. Russia also proposes that the EU set up consular offices in Kaliningrad and provide financial and technical assistance to modernize border control points and lower the cost of air and ferry transport.

Lithuania is concerned about the new Russian proposal. Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus's special envoy for Kaliningrad, Gediminas Kirkilas, told RFE/RL that focusing on Lithuania while dropping demands for Poland could be viewed as an attempt by Russia to weaken the strategic partnership between Lithuania and Poland.

Kirkilas says he spoke with leaders in the Polish Parliament after the new proposals became public.

"First and foremost, we are contacting our Polish colleagues and asking if something has changed [in our relations]. So far, there are no changes in the Polish attitudes to a strategic partnership with Lithuania or toward Lithuania, neither on the highest nor on the lower political level."

Vytautas Landsbergis, former chairman of the Lithuanian parliament, is now a member of the parliamentary Committee of Foreign Relations. He told RFE/RL that the memorandum articulates Russia's true intentions toward Lithuania.

"Russia's aim and tactics are clear. It could have been foreseen from the beginning, when Russia formulated very ambitious aims and an unrealistic plan -- it wanted nonvisa travel through Poland and Lithuania for all 150 million of its citizens.

Russia knew from the beginning that this aim was unrealistic and that it was put forward only to have an opportunity to offer a so-called 'compromise' and show so-called 'goodwill.' "

Landsbergis says he is afraid that Russia, in its talks with the EU, is trying to influence Lithuania's status in the EU as it negotiates for membership.

Landsbergis says Russia's other aim is also "crystal clear" -- to divide Poland and Lithuania and to prove that Lithuania -- for 50 years occupied by the Soviet Union -- does not possess the same status on the international stage as Poland, a former Soviet satellite.

Today, Poland and Lithuania enjoy strong bilateral ties. Warsaw has been a strong advocate of Lithuanian membership in both the EU and NATO, while groups of parliamentarians from both capitals gather several times a year to discuss common problems.