Breakthrough on Kaliningrad visa impasse

  • 2002-10-24

The European Union on Oct. 22 claimed a breakthrough with Moscow in a bitter dispute over the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad which has cast a shadow over EU enlargement.

EU leaders now hope to seal the deal at a EU-Russian summit on Nov. 11.

After the latest negotiations, Russia now recognizes the need for a "simple visa regime" to enable residents of the Baltic enclave to transit across Lithuania, which is set to enter the EU in 2004, to the rest of their homeland, said Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller.

EU foreign ministers meeting here had agreed a deal on Kaliningrad which their leaders would endorse at a summit in Brussels this week, he told a news conference.

"After this we will continue the talks with Russia in order to achieve the final agreement before the European-Russia summit in Copenhagen on Nov. 11, and I believe that will be a success," Moeller said.

Russia has been pressing for visa-free travel across EU territory for residents of Kaliningrad and had threatened to boycott next month's summit in the Danish capital in the absence of a deal.

"Russia now recognizes that a simple visa regime must be introduced for cars and buses," said the minister, representing the EU's Danish presidency.

"Furthermore, Russia now recognizes that a decision concerning a visa-free train may only be made when Lithuania has joined the European Union," Moeller added.

A high-speed, non-stop train link across Lithuania has been mooted as one way of allowing Kaliningrad dwellers to travel to the rest of Russia without an EU visa.

But Lithuania has been deeply unhappy at the prospect of having a train line foisted on its territory by the rest of the EU.

While bigger powers such as France and Italy were keen to stress the EU's strategic partnership with Russia, smaller members backed Lithuania's sovereign right to control its borders with Russian territory.

Vilnius has also been concerned about the implications of any Kaliningrad deal on its hopes of joining the EU's Schengen agreement, which has abolished border controls among participating member states.

But Moeller said, "There has been decisive movement on the part of Lithuania."

The Baltic country "will be given a political promise" that it can join Schengen as soon as possible "provided of course Lithuania fulfills the conditions of the Schengen rules, which of course they intend to do," he said.