Interview with Gediminas Kirkilas, Chairman of Foreign Affairs Committee of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania
Regarding Lithuania, the EU enlargement brings the question of Kaliningrad region resident’s transit to Russia through Lithuanian territory. This problem will most probably be solved to the satisfaction of both parties by issuing special travel documents but Moscow has rejected this proposal. The negotiations have not reached mutual acceptable results yet. Could you explain position of Lithuania in this question?
The European Commission’s Communication on transit to Kaliningrad via Lithuania has encouraged a variety of opinions. Some say that Lithuania is making concessions, others - that Brussels held talks with Moscow behind Lithuania’s back. Nevertheless, I believe that Lithuania has assumed a correct and constructive position. There is a firm adherence to the requirements of the Schengen accord and commitments undertaken with the European Union. On the other hand, Lithuania, together with Brussels, has responded flexibly to Russia’s proposals, not rejecting them immediately, but revealing in a diplomatic and proper way the unacceptable issues. Such tactics has not only ruled out any possibility to suspect us of failure to meet our commitments following the closure of chapter on justice and home affairs, but it also allowed us to show flexibility on and understanding of the Kaliningrad problem.
Lithuania was one of the first, if not the first to raise the forthcoming problem of visas several years ago and on different levels. To that end we established the Forum of the Lithuanian Seimas and the Kaliningrad Duma, which is now active. Lithuanian leaders, diplomats, and MPs for several years already have been talking to their eastern and western colleagues about the ‘problem of Kaliningrad’ and its possible economic, political, and other implications. Last year President Valdas Adamkus in his meeting with the Russian President Vladimir Putin has described in detail our future commitments under the Schengen accord undertaken upon concluding the relevant negotiation chapter in the course of Lithuania’s integration to the EU. It is possible only to speculate about why for a considerable period Moscow did nothing, negotiated with no one, and even in a somewhat exposed way maintained a stance that the Kaliningrad problem presented no particular interest to it. In all probability, it was expected that it would somehow impede Lithuania’s integration into the NATO and the EU. Or maybe until the last minute there had been hopes that a light pressure from Moscow will be sufficient and that Brussels will acquiesce.
Lithuania has not only informed its neighbours of the pending cancellation of visa-free regime, it has also been actively proposing solutions. Among them was one submitted at an earlier stage on multiple-entry and cheaper visa obtained under a simplified procedure. It can be said that the European Commission’s proposal to introduce to passengers travelling through Lithuania facilitated transit documents, which should be easier to obtain and cheaper than visa, in essence is line with Lithuania’s position. There was only one thing that Lithuania could not propose - to avoid the very word ‘visa’, which was in the interests of the Russian side. This could only be done by Brussels, which it did. I distinguish a wise compromise here, which discards the claims of Russian politicians that allegedly Russians will need a visa to travel from one part of their territory to another. On the other hand, the proposed facilitated transit documents will be issued by the Lithuanian consulates, and Lithuania, as a Schengen agreement country, will be able to carry out controls during transit through its territory. I trust that the issuance of such documents will proceed smoothly, without the bureaucratic red tape and with due regard to the needs of people, and that such practice will soon dispel the unfounded fears and propaganda existing in Russia.
Lithuania is in principle ready for such issuance of documents, although its neighbours are still delaying granting of permits to open more consulates. However, as it is known, the issuance of documents is not a unilateral business. It is important for us that Russia should be prepared and determined to proceed with this work, which has not been the case until now. The European Commission in its Communication on Kaliningrad: Transit drew the same conclusion on Russia’s respective actions.
Those who claim that Lithuania took no part in this story and that everything ‘has been negotiated behind its back’, apparently do not possess the complete information, which is understandable, because a great deal of activity was done using the diplomatic channels. We were aware of all drafts, proposals and Brussels’s negotiation positions with Moscow, and we were presenting our proposals and conclusions. It could be said that Lithuania negotiated at one table together with Brussels, Copenhagen etc., and this, inter alia, is the first political fruit borne by our integration to the European Union.
However, it is still rather premature to discuss Russia’s proposals on visa-free regime or ‘visa-free’ trains (non-stop transit trains). Lithuania will be ready to consider such proposals (in particular on non-stop transit trains) only after its accession to the European Union in 2004 and only having obtained guarantees from the EU that in the future this transit will create no obstacles for Lithuania’s accession to the Schengen agreement. On the other hand, before launching such debates, Moscow, too, has to complete a considerable number of tasks: to replace the old Soviet-style passports, to sign readmission treaties, to ratify the Lithuanian-Russian border demarcation treaty (ratification has been delayed since 1997) and to ensure better controls along its southern borders.
Kaliningrad region could easily and without exaggeration be called ”the Sick Man of Balt” - for its economic and social problems, for its high criminality rate and alarming epidemic situation. This territory could become a source of various complications in the whole Baltic region. Could Lithuania present any solutions to this situation, and what should be, in Lithuania’s opinion, the EU’s approach to this region?
The Kaliningrad region is indeed facing a number of problems today. The region’s administration and the federal government bodies should be primarily concerned with their resolution. Given the absence of such concern, even the best intentions or plans are doomed to failure. It is also clear that the neighbouring countries may not remain uninvolved. Lithuania and Poland have a direct interest in the economic development of the Kaliningrad region, development of its infrastructure, and improvement of its crime and ecological situation. It is gratifying that Lithuania’s contribution in this direction is evident.
Discussing the Kaliningrad region it should be stressed that the economic relations we maintain with it are one of the most intensive. Lithuania is one of its principal trading partners and an investor which furthers economic co-operation and an accelerated economic development in the region, and promotes the market economy (a Lithuanian business club, uniting over 460 companies, has been set up in Kaliningrad). According to 2001 data, in terms of the export volume to Kaliningrad, Lithuania was second only to Germany, while Lithuanian investments in the Kaliningrad region comprised 16 per cent of total investments in the region.
We should not forget the co-operation agreement between the ports of Klaip?da and Kaliningrad, whose signing would encourage a further development of mutually beneficial co-operation. The Lithuanian party handed over a draft intergovernmental agreement on co-operation to implement the 2K (Klaip?da and Kaliningrad ports) to the interested Russian bodies. It is expected that the agreement should be finalised and signed by the end of 2002.
On the issue of development of the border infrastructure, Lithuania adheres to the position that the border control points located on the territory of Lithuania and Russia should be upgraded in parallel, by applying the ‘mirror’ principle which would allow to avoid queues of transport vehicles at the border. The Lithuanian side, seeking to upgrade the efficiency of border controls and combat illegal migration and trafficking, has modernised and is planning to start modernisation of a number of control points. Similar efficient actions are expected from the Russian side.
In February 2000 Lithuania and Russia agreed on and submitted to the European Commission 15 joint projects on transport, energy, environment, health care, and other fields (‘Nida Initiative’). In the Northern Dimension conference held on 9 April 2001 in Luxembourg, Lithuania and Russia introduced 5 supplemented and renewed joint priority projects on co-operation with the Kaliningrad region (Nida Initiative 2): Via Hanseatica highway (which will link Western Europe with the Kaliningrad region), reconstruction of a branch of IX D Crete corridor leading to Kaliningrad, AIDS prevention programme, and training for customs officials and border guards. The latter has been introduced in the conference as a trilateral: among its participants will be officials from Lithuania, Russia, and Poland. In the Luxembourg meeting emphasis was laid on the problem of financing for the mentioned projects, as at present the EU’s PHARE, TACIS and INTERRED programmes are not adjusted to allow for the implementation of joint projects, while unilateral investments in, for example, modernisation of border points, are not purposeful.
Lithuanian national regional development agency is pursuing a project on Development of the Project Pipeline for Cross-border Co-operation Projects between Lithuania and Kaliningrad, in the course of which joint priority projects for Lithuanian border areas and Kaliningrad region will be identified and drafted in accordance with requirements of donors. Completion of projects for funding is scheduled for October 2002.
Lithuania hopes that the European Union has similar views on the Kaliningrad region. Special hopes are linked with the EU’s financial assistance for the carrying out of joint projects. I would like to reiterate once again the importance of Russia’s positive attitude without which the assistance of neighbouring countries could not be utilised to the full.