Ambassador: time running out for exclave

  • 2002-11-07

Lithuania and Russia should agree on visa procedures for carriers and residents of the border region of Kaliningrad without delay, in the light of Lithuania's plans to cancel visa privileges for Russian citizens next year, Lithuania's ambassador to Russia Rimantas Sidlauskas said.

Speaking to reporters after a meeting with Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus in Vilnius on Nov. 4, Sidlauskas said that Lithuania has not yet received permission from Russian authorities to open a new consulate in Sovetsk, in the Kaliningrad region, and to enlarge the premises of the consulate general in Kaliningrad.

"Knowing the little time left until the visas are introduced, there could be some tensions," the ambassador said.

As the number of visas will grow significantly after Lithuania cancels visa privileges to Ukrainian, Belarussian and Russian citizens next year, the governmental European Integration Commission passed a Consular Service Development Program stipulating expansion of the network of Lithuanian diplomatic missions abroad.

The program stipulates development of the consulate network in Kaliningrad, Minsk, Kiev, Moscow, St. Petersburg, as well as opening new ones in Sovetsk, the second-largest city in the Kaliningrad region, and Grodno, Belarus.

In Sidlauskas' words, Russia has taken an extremely "peculiar" stance on the situation.

"They say that all decisions will be made after the transit procedure is cleared up and after an agreement is reached between Russia and the European Union," said the ambassador.

In the framework of its obligations assumed in the EU talks and the attempt to join the Schengen treaty, Lithuania will cancel visa privileges for the Russia's nationals traveling by car to and via Lithuania as of July 1, 2003.

Furthermore, as of January 2003 Lithuania will cancel visa privileges to Russian non-Kaliningrad residents who wish to cross the territory of Lithuania by train.

The diplomat said that the Consular Division of the Lithuanian Embassy in Moscow now issues 50-60, sometimes as many as 100, visas a day.

In his words, Lithuania's Foreign Ministry has prepared a draft resolution on the travel procedures and forwarded it to Russia a month ago.

In the ambassador's opinion, no transit permits will satisfy the needs of border residents, therefore the travel procedures of haulage services, train brigades and residents of border regions as well as possible fee discounts for visas will have to be decided on a bilateral basis.

Sidlauskas noted that he discussed with Adamkus the possible actions of Lithuania after the Russia-EU summit planned for Nov. 11.

The ambassador stressed that Lithuania's position on the Kaliningrad travel issue after the country joins the EU remains unchanged.

"We can be maximally flexible because guarantees of Schengen membership are most important to us," said Sidlauskas.

A Kaliningrad transit plan passed by EU leaders at the end of October stipulates that starting July 2003, Russian citizens should be issued special transit documents allowing travel through Lithuanian territory. The receipt of the documents should be easier than regular visas.

Heads of EU countries also assumed an obligation to include a stipulation into the Lithuanian accession treaty that the organization would help Vilnius to cover the costs related with transit of Russian citizens. According to the plan, no decision regarding the visa-free trains should be made until Lithuania joins the EU.

The document also stresses that the EU will assist Lithuania in meeting criteria of the Schengen system in order to make the Baltic state one of the first candidate countries to join the visa-free travel zone.