Politicians promise Russians support, understanding

  • 2002-11-21
  • Bernard Besserglik

Lithuania pledged that NATO membership would not damage its relations with Moscow, and Russia welcomed an EU-brokered compromise deal with Lithuania allowing transit for its citizens between Kaliningrad and the rest of the country.

The two sides clinched a visa deal in Brussels last week during a Russia-EU summit, allowing Kaliningrad residents to pass through Lithuania using a "facilitated transit document" once the former Soviet republic becomes a member of the European Union.

Russia had been pressing hard for visa-free travel across Lithuania for Kaliningraders, and the new document, effectively a low-cost, easily-obtainable multiple-entry visa, was seen as a face-saving device to allow Moscow to back down gracefully.

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told the speaker of the Lithuanian parliament, Arturas Paulauskas, that a delegation headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Razov would be leaving shortly for Vilnius to discuss the technical arrangements on travel between the Baltic enclave and continental Russia.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis said last week that Vilnius welcomed the deal with "moderate optimism," but stressed it was still "analyzing what was agreed" with a view to resolving "the many unanswered questions and problems" that remain.

Paulauskas, in an interview with the daily Izvestia, said the technical arrangements on the transit deal should be settled by January 1, 2003.

"If things are not worked out by then, Lithuania will have the right to adopt transit rules unilaterally," he said.

In Vilnius, Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas said on national radio that NATO membership will not harm the country's relations with Russia.

"Lithuania's membership in NATO will influence relations with Russia. But nothing suggests that they will deteriorate. Now that a wave of terrorism has swept the world, NATO is uniting countries: its members, NATO candidates, among them Lithuania, and Russia as well," Brazauskas said.

The Lithuanian economy is likely to develop much more quickly once the country has become a NATO member, the prime minister said.

Vilnius is expecting to be invited to become a fully-fledged member of the Atlantic Alliance at NATO's Prague summit Nov. 21-22.

Lithuania also figures on the itinerary of a visit by U.S. President George Bush who, after the Prague summit, will visit both St. Petersburg and Vilnius.

Brazauskas said the Bush visit would be "historic... a political step, indicating Lithuania's maturity."

The visit "will be a major asset to Lithuania," he said.

Russia's Ivanov said that "acting in this constructive spirit we will be able to continue settling such matters and developing good-neighborly cooperation in the interests of the two countries."

He expressed confidence that "artificial obstacles will not be placed in the way of the travel of Russian citizens to and from Kaliningrad."

Ivanov expressed satisfaction with the political dialogue" between the two countries. "We have certain positive results both in the political sphere and in the sphere of trade and the economy," he added.