Kaliningrad focus as Baltic, Russian leaders meet

  • 2002-03-07
  • BNS
VILNIUS - Top Russian government officials took part in a meeting of the Council of Baltic Sea States in Kaliningrad this week to discuss the future of the Russian exclave in an expanded European Union.

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov met with government leaders from Estonia, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Sweden and European Commissioner Chris Patten on March 5-6. The meetings continued as The Baltic Times went to press.

Russian officials have been leery of what it sees as the European Union attempting to dictate policy in Kaliningrad. "We haven't rejected European Union and Russian negotiations on the Kaliningrad region, but the (Council of Baltic Sea States) could complement them," Ivanov said after arriving in Kaliningrad on March 5.

Ivanov, who was scheduled to leave Kaliningrad to meet with Lithuanian President Valdus Adamkus and others in Vilnius on March 6, said Russia is intent on finding a place for the one million people living in Kaliningrad, which will be surrounded by EU countries when Poland and Lithuania are admitted.

Russian leaders fear the exclave, which has a lagging economy and growing crime and AIDS problems, will become even more isolated after EU enlargement.

The region also remains heavily militarized, remnants of its World War II past when it was a staging area for sending Soviet troops into Central and Eastern Europe.

Moscow has been particularly vocal over visa requirements for Russian citizens in Kaliningrad to transit the Baltic states on their way to Russia. Kasyanov, Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas and Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller were to hold separate talks at a resort near the town of Nida in Kaliningrad.

Brazauskas and Kasyanov also planned to discuss cooperation between the Lithuanian port of Klaipeda and Kaliningrad's port, the opening of new consulates in Kaliningrad and a proposed Russian-built natural gas pipeline across Lithuania.