Luxembourg, 22 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- A meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Luxembourg today agreed on a compromise offer to Russia with regard to the future of the country's Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad.
Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller, who spoke for the EU's current presidency, said he believes the offer will allow the EU and Russia to conclude talks on the issue at their Copenhagen summit in November. "The task today was to unite the sovereignty of Lithuania, the efficiency of Schengen, [and] the interests of Russia and the European Union. The conclusions we agreed on strike exactly the right balance between these interests. The result of the discussions today will be endorsed at the meeting of the European Council [in Brussels] later this week," Moeller said.
The compromise says Lithuania's visa requirement for Russian citizens will be implemented "flexibly" until a "facilitated-transit" regime comes into force on 1 July 2003. Lithuania retains the right to refuse entry to Russian travelers, who must carry international passports starting in January 2004.
Lithuania will also agree to a feasibility study in 2003 on high-speed train links allowing Russians visa-free transit.
In return, the EU says it will guarantee that the compromise creates no obstacles for Lithuania's accession to the EU's Schengen visa regime "as soon as possible."
Today's EU offer also says the Russian proposal to open discussions on the eventual establishment of a visa-free regime with the entire EU is separate from the discussions on Kaliningrad. However, the EU is prepared to start work later this year on measures such as border-management cooperation, collaboration in areas of justice and internal affairs, and the negotiation of an EU-Russia readmission treaty, all of which are necessary for the dropping of the EU visa requirement for Russian citizens.
Moeller said the latest compromise proposal became possible after "extensive movement" on the part of Lithuania, complemented by some changes in the Russian position.
An internal EU document prepared by the EU's Danish presidency for today's meeting, which was seen by RFE/RL, adds detail, saying Lithuania has agreed to "simplified" train transit for Russian citizens until the EU's proposed "facilitated-transit document," or FTD, takes effect in the middle of next year. Once the FTD is in place, the document says, the EU and Lithuania will "seek to ensure that the operation of the system should be as simple and unbureaucratic as possible."
The paper says Lithuania will maintain a "sovereign right" to refuse entry to Russian citizens.
The feasibility study for direct train links proposed today by the EU to take place in 2003 would not see any of its decisions implemented before Lithuania becomes a member of the bloc in 2004. In addition, the EU's preparatory document says Vilnius insists that the study can only be launched "at a time convenient for Lithuania."
Crucially, the document notes Lithuania still continues to insist that any transit document for Kaliningrad be accepted for travel throughout the EU. This demand was incorporated in a decision adopted by the Lithuanian parliament on 10 October.
On the other hand, the EU's background paper says Russia still demands that the present unfettered visa-free access to Kaliningrad by train must remain in place.
Moscow wants Russian internal passports to be valid for transit until 2006. Although Russia has conceded Lithuania's right to refuse entry to Russian citizens while applying for an FTD, the EU notes it remains "unclear," however, if Russia accepts Lithuania's right to refuse entry to Russian citizens in possession of FTDs at the border.
Russia has raised some practical concerns, among them the accessibility of consulates and the administrative difficulty of compiling Russian lists of travelers, but has agreed expert-level talks will suffice to resolve these problems.
Russia has also told the EU it accepts that a decision on a permanent train-based solution for visa-free access to Kaliningrad could only be accepted after Lithuania joins the EU in 2004 but maintains that present visa-free access should continue until then.
On its side, Russia has said that if an acceptable solution to the Kaliningrad issue should be found at the Copenhagen summit on 11 November, it would "unblock" its agreement to the opening of a new Lithuanian consulate in Sovetsk, Kaliningrad; ratify its border agreement with Lithuania; and conclude readmission agreements with Poland and Lithuania.