VILNIUS - A Russian MP, on an official visit to the Lithuanian capital, stressed that Kalinin-grad Oblast was sovereign territory, and that neighboring states should not interfere in its affairs.
After the recent crash of a Russian jet fighter in Lithuania, there has been increasingly vocal discontent in both the Baltics and Europe over the heavy concentration of military forces in the exclave. Top Lithuanian officials have called for the demilitarization of the region.
"The Kaliningrad region is a part of Russia. Nobody questions it. So everything that is related to the region's development, including the military sphere, is Russia's sovereign right. I don't think that anybody has a reason to dictate or recommend Russia these positions [demilitarization of the region]," said Viktor Opekunov, head of a delegation of Russian MPs that visited Vilnius this week.
His comments came right after his discussion with Parliamentary Chairman Arturas Paulauskas, who has called on European leaders to get Russia to demilitarize the region.
Kaliningrad Oblast is home to some 16,000 members of the armed services. The town of Baltiisk is home to the headquarters of the Baltic Fleet, one of Russia's four naval fleets.
After the Su-27crashed in the western part of the country, Parliament passed a resolution noting that "Russia failed to ensure the safety of flights of its armed military aircraft, and such flights near the airspace of Lithuania and other EU and NATO member states posed a threat." The resolution expressed support for demilitarizing the Kaliningrad region, where the Su-27 had been flying to from a base outside St. Petersburg.
Speaking to reporters on Oct. 25, Paulauskas stressed that the resolution was only an opinion. "It is an expression of our position, not a wish that could be fulfilled in a short period of time. It is a matter of long-term prospect. Who can say today what Kaliningrad's economic and social development will be, how it will carry out reforms," Paulauskas said.
In the parliamentary speaker's words, many hopes for positive changes in the Kaliningrad region are linked with the new governor. He said there was optimism that the region would "become more and more civil."
But the shadow of Kaliningrad's military contingent is unlikely to go away. A meeting this week between governmental leaders of the Nordic and Baltic countries in Reykjavik also raised the issue.
Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas told his colleagues at the meeting that the issue of Kaliningrad's demilitarization was important to all of northern Europe. "The issue of demilitarization is not made up by individual Lithuanian politicians. Without a doubt, first of all, it is a matter of Russia, but there are many statements about it not only in Lithuania but also in other countries," the prime minister said.
At a briefing after the Oct. 24 meeting, Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson said, "It is important for us to have good relations and cooperate with Russia. It is also important to note that many of us, including EU countries, want to see a joint position toward Russia."
The jet fighter, armed with four air-to-air missiles, crashed in the Sakiai district near the border with Kaliningrad Oblast, some 50 kilometers from Kaunas, on Sept. 15. The pilot ejected to safety and landed in the neighboring district of Jurbarkas. There were no casualties, and damage was minimal. The Foreign Ministry handed a note to Russia's Embassy on Oct. 19 for compensation. According to the data presented by the Prosecutor General's Office, damages to be paid were approximately 67,000 litas (some 19,420 euros).
Opekunov said that Russia would compensate the losses. "I see no problems as to compensation for the damage done by the Su-27 crash. The procedure is in the phase of coordination and consideration, and as soon as the figures of the actual damage are agreed upon, all the damages will be paid," Opekunov said.