Kaliningrad issue remains unsolved

  • 2002-08-15
  • Agence France-Presse, VILNIUS
Russia said Aug. 12 it would consider allowing Poland and Lithuania to require ID cards for Kaliningrad residents that would let them travel to the two countries once they join the European Union, but it ruled out a similar system for those visiting mainland Russia.

"We must find a solution to allow travel between Russia and Kaliningrad without visas," said Dmitri Rogozin, Russia's special envoy to the Baltic enclave.

Russia fears that the 1 million people living in Kaliningrad, separated from the mainland by Poland and Lithuania, will become further isolated once the EU hopefuls introduce a new visa regime next year in line with membership requirements.

"This is a political problem and one of public opinion," Rogozin said after meeting Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas and Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis.

"Talks between Russia and the European Union have thus far been reminiscent of a conversation between deaf people," Rogozin said, urging Brussels to show more flexibility on the issue.

Rogozin downplayed a recent proposal by Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus to introduce special magnetic identification cards or long-term visas for Kaliningrad residents.

"This could be discussed as one of the possibilities to ease Kaliningrad residents' travel to Lithuania and Poland, but not for their transit to Russia," he said.

Rogozin added that Russia believed enforcing a visa regime would be technically impossible.

But Lithuania's foreign minister said that Vilnius would be able to issue up to 1,000 visas a day.

Valionis said his country would work to ensure good relations with Russia after Lithuania joins the European Union, which it hopes to do in 2004.

"Lithuania's position is clear - we are ready to show maximum flexibility in line with Schengen requirements," Valionis said, referring to the accords that govern travel within the EU.

The EU says Lithuania and Poland must require visas for Kaliningrad residents from mid-2003 to qualify for admission in 2004.