Governor, envoys work out devilish details

  • 2002-12-05
  • Matt Kovalick

Negotiations on specific transit issues related to Kaliningrad Oblast continued Nov. 29 in Vilnius, and the again on Dec. 2 in Moscow, as a high-ranking Russian delegation led by Kaliningrad Governor Vladimir Yegorov visited the Lithuanian capital.

In addition, the Lithuanian leadership said it will insist the European Union disperse funds to cover transit-related costs.

"Our position is as follows: the resolution of Kaliningrad transit-related problems should not be an additional financial burden to Lithuania. There should be additional funding," Lithuania's Senior EU negotiator Petras Austrevicius said Dec. 3 at a press conference.

Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas, who was also at the conference, said the country would need at least 30 million euros from 2003 to 2006 to implement the EU-fostered transit agreement.

After the watershed EU-Russia accord signed last month in Brussels on transits and visas, Lithuanian and Russian officials met to hammer out the details and work out mechanisms whereby the new accord can facilitate the movement of people traveling to and from Kaliningrad via Lithuania.

"Now everything is about the details. It's important that our specialists cooperate on technical issues that already have political support," said Dimitry Rogozin, Russian President Vladimir Putin's commissioner for Kaliningrad.

Egidijus Meilunas, adviser to Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus, said that Lithuania's position had not changed and reiterated the president's statements earlier last week when he said that Lithuania would make an independent and final decision concerning transit to and from Kaliningrad via Lithuanian territory as of the new year.

Meilunas stated that in making the decision Lithuania will take into consideration a number of aspects, including decisions made at the EU-Russia summit in Brussels on Nov. 11 that Russian nationals would be able to travel with facilitated travel documents after July 1, 2003.

Also factored into the decision will be information taken from consultations with Russian officials, the border police, and Lithuanian Interior and Foreign ministries in order to reach a solution that won't hamper Lithuania's ability to join the Schengen Treaty.

Although he refused to share details, Brazauskas hinted as to how the transit-and-visa program will be implemented.

"As of Jan. 1, 2003, all Russian nationals who want to travel via the territory of Lithuania will be identified. Up to now the identification used to be carried out at random. As of April 1, 2003, we are going to introduce a tighter control. There will be special lists. The facilitated travel documents will be introduced as of July 1, 2003," Brazauskas said.

"At the end of the consultations we'll know exactly how it will work," said Meilunas.

State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Evaldas Ignatavicius explained that January to July next year will be a "preparation period to introduce more and more control and cooperation" between the two countries and their border guards.

He said these six months would be spent preparing the structure and mechanisms so good procedures are in place for the facilitated transit document scheme.

The Russian envoy said that Russia had agreed to admit back any illegal immigrants during this time period even though the two countries have yet to sign an official re-admission agreement. He added that only technical issues remain in opening new Lithuanian and Russian consulates in Sovetsk and Klaipeda by June 30 of next year.

The consulates are expected to deal specifically with the new transportation documents since Lithuania is set to become a member of the EU in 2004.

Beyond matters involving transit, Rogozin also said that the long-delayed border ratification issue (which Lithuania must have in order to join NATO and the Schengen treaty) would be addressed soon in the Russian State Parliament.

The Russian special adviser said that the foreign affairs committee would send the treaty to the State Duma on Dec. 19.

The treaty was originally signed in 1997 and ratified by Lithuania in 1999.

Overall, Ignatavicius described the meetings as having a good "working" mood with both sides demonstrating an interest in successful resolution to the issues.

"We don't consider Kalinin-grad as a competition where one wins or loses. We have a win-win situation if we succeed together - all sides will benefit."

Ignatavicius mentioned that Kaliningrad was perceived as a pilot project between Europe and Russia.

"If we fail, it will be more difficult to achieve an atmosphere of confidence later. We are quite optimistic, but there is much to do. Transit is just one issue."

He said Lithuania would like to come back to focus on other broader social, political and economic issues once the movement of people was resolved.

No doubt Kaliningrad's social problems worry Lithuanian officials most of all. On the eve of the Russian delegation's visit Kirkilas said that Moscow must do more to support the enclave region and not just treat it as another region of the country.

Moscow, the Lithuanian president's special adviser on Kaliningrad Gediminas Kirkilas complained, lacks a clear plan for the exclave and that all earlier plans to transform the region with 1 million residents into a free trade zone had failed due to weakness in the Russian laws.