Brussels committed to transit deal

  • 2002-12-19

In the last round of negotiations, Lithuania and the European Union agreed on funding for the Kaliningrad transit scheme, the last issue in the country's three year-long talks with the organization.

The EU and Russia agreed that from July 1, 2003, Russian citizens will be able to travel via Lithuania to and from the Kaliningrad region on the basis of so-called facilitated travel documents, which will be easier to get and cheaper than visas.

Once the agreement was made, the EU committed itself to sponsoring the implementation of the new transit scheme.

According to Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis, Lithuania will receive between 9 million and 10 million euros next year from the EU for implementation of the new transit procedures, and then up to 40 million euros in the 2004-2006 period. The exact final amount will depend on the amount needed for realization of the EU-Russia agreement.

"Lesser spending would mean respectively lower funding. I believe this is a strong financial guarantee for us to organize transit without any fears of additional costs," Valionis said.

Under the existing travel regime, the 950,000 Russian citizens living in the Kaliningrad region can travel to or via Lithuania without visas, as can Lithuanians through the Russian exclave.

Moscow had pressed hard for continued visa-free travel 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.

The transit document for travel by road will be issued by Lithuanian authorities "free of charge or at a very low cost," according to a statement issued after the Brussels summit.

"We have guarantees, we have the money," said Valionis of the transit agreement, adding that "Lithuania completed the talks in a fine manner."