|Author: Jan Barta|
KALININGRAD – REGION OF PROBLEMS AND OPPORTUNITIES
The visa-free treaty between the Lithuanian Republic and Russia will cease to exist as of January 1, 2003. This step will be taken by Lithuania in connection with its EU entry preparatory procedures. It is a standard measure, but implicated under non-standard conditions. Introduction of visas will complicate transit through Lithuanian territory for citizens of Russian Federation travelling to and from the Kaliningrad region. Introduction of visas thus became a hot issue of both Lithuanian-Russian and EU-Russian agendas. It seems that mutually acceptable agreement is still out of reach, in spite of intensive negotiations and series of proposals aimed at solving the situation.
Lithuania’s decision to introduce visas for Russian citizens as of January 1, 2003 might seem a bit hasty; for example Poland will do the same half a year later, on July 1, 2003. Nevertheless, one can find both logical elements and emphasis of national interests focusing on the stability of the final stage of EU entry negotiations in this apparent Lithuanian precipitancy. "Our principle is clear: we do not want to and cannot experiment with our sovereignty and Schengen membership, therefore, we cannot discuss an option or studies of visa-free trains prior to our membership in the EU," said Lithuanian's Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis.
Lithuania’s position is quite clear and comprehensible. The country is heading to the EU, and it must fulfill the EU criteria that will enable it to join the Schengen system. In this particular case it means negotiations between Lithuania and the EU that require introduction of visas for non-EU members including citizens of Russia. The truth is that such measure can complicate life of a certain group of Russian citizens.
A joint agreement between Lithuania, EU and Russia might bring a simplified transit regime through the territory of Lithuania by introduction of a Facilitated Transit Document. „All Russian citizens who travel frequently and directly between Kaliningrad and the Russian mainland would be entitled to apply for the Facilitated Transit Document (FTD)… The FTD could take the form of a securised booklet, the first page of which would contain personal data similar to those foreseen in the ICAO recommendation on passports. To this, a securised sticker would be attached. Its validity may be of one year or more. The booklet would be equivalent to a multiple-entry visa valid exclusively for transit between two territories belonging to the same country but separated by the territory of one or more Member States. The FTD would be renewable.“1
Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejected this solution by issuing an official reaction to the EU document: ”We state with regret that as before, no shifts on the part of the EU are observable in dealing with the key question of life support for Kaliningrad oblast - the preservation of visa-free train and bus transit between the region and the rest of Russia through Lithuania. Our partners propose introducing a "facilitated transit document" which is actually a visa surrogate and would be issued only to a limited, very vague category of Russians who need to travel frequently to and from Kaliningrad.“2
Even Lithuania does not fully support such solution. The Resolution on the Position of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania on the Kaliningrad Issue from October 10, 2002 states that Lithuania is willing to introduce FTD only in case that they „should apply equally when travelling from the Kaliningrad Region to the Russian Federation through the territory of Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Poland or any other present and future Schengen country.” A. Palauskas, Chairman of the Lithuanian Parliament, repeated this opinion at the European Parliament session on October 15 in the presence of Polish, Russian and EU delegations. Palauskas also stated the reason for such standpoint of Lithuania: "We are ready to discuss the issue of visa-free travelling but we want first the formal position of the EU and Schengen area. Any other consideration will lead to hesitation. We don't want to slow down our accession to Schengen. It is not acceptable for Lithuania to tie up the Kaliningrad issue to the border treaty ratification."3
Lithuania’s view was supported at the session by Marshal of the Polish Sejm, M. Borowski, who noted that "we are also interested in supporting Lithuania in implementing measures not to delay the Polish and Lithuanian entry in Schengen… It is up to Lithuania to make the final decision." Marek Borowski also said: “Poland and Lithuania might be more favourable to such visa-free trains if the EU gave them a firm date for their accession to the Schengen zone.“4 Polish position clearly illustrates that Poland wishes for EU assistance at this problem, presence that will definitely create better position for negotiations with Russia.
If the original schedule is maintained, then Lithuania introduces visa duty for Russia in 2003, becomes an EU member in 2004, and after that further negotiations about transit of Russian citizens through Lithuanian territory could take place between Russia and the EU; Lithuania will already be an EU member at that time, even though its entry to Schengen can be expected to a later date. Such negotiations about transit of citizens and cargo would be a matter of an eventual agreement between the EU and the Russian Federation, a situation that is definitely more favorable for Lithuania than bilateral negotiations between Lithuania and Russia over other than current proposals, e.g. introduction of visas. Lithuania’s approach to this topic shows signs of justifiable tactics, since Moscow is known for its power policy towards its smaller neighbors. Discussion among Russian political representatives with some of them trying to get Vilnius back against the wall in the issue of transit conditions is a proof of that. The treaty on defining the Russian – Lithuanian border that has not been ratified so far, can be viewed as a part of Russian pressure tactics.
Internet site of the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs characterizes the border issue as quite a non-problematic one: „Lithuania has no border problems with Russia, nor does it have problems in relation to its Russian national minority. The delimitation of the state border between the two countries was completed on October 24, 1997 with the signing of a treaty on defining the state borders between Lithuania and Russia and a treaty establishing the exclusive economic zone at the Baltic Sea.“5 This statement is not completely true these days. The treaty has been signed, but it was not ratified, and its ratification in the Duma at the end of October 2002 got entangled in the context of the Kaliningrad issue. As such, the deal “visa free regime for ratification” proposed by Russian special envoy Dmitri Rogozin before his visit to Vilnius (October 16, 2002) is most probably not going to take place, and several Russian deputies used this opportunity to get cheap electoral points by sharp comments against “cheeky” Lithuanians.
The State Duma does not discuss only whether to ratify the treaty or not, but some territorial claims towards Vilnius can be heard as well. Such statements questioning Lithuania’s territorial sovereignty cannot be taken too seriously, nevertheless they are often noted on a very high Parliamentary level, and are definitely not of a benefit to good relationship between both countries. Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Foreign Affaires S. Shishkaryov reflected in the following way on the territorial “problems” in June this year: „After World War II, East Prussia, on the basis of the Yalta and Potsdam agreements, went to the Soviet Union in accordance with its right as a winner state.6 It was only later that by a decision of the Stalinist leadership of USSR, which had «occupied» Lithuania, the Vilno territory with its center in the city of Vilno, and the Memel territory with its center in the city of Memel (currently Klaipeda) ended up within the administrative borders of the Lithuanian SSR, making up some what over a third of its present-day area. Both we –and Lithuania's future EU mates- should take a close look at what kind of state Lithuania is, and how its EU membership may tell on the well-being of taxpayers in its other members. Perhaps then negotiations with the EU on Kaliningrad wil not be as topical as they are now.“7
Shishkaryov’s article, full of irony and strong words, cannot be interpreted word by word, and must be viewed in the context of emotions flared up by the Law of Compensation of Damage Caused by the Soviet Occupation adopted by the Lithuanian Parliament in 2000. Nonetheless we should note the part where Deputy Chairman indirectly threatens Lithuania that Russia could cause problems in connection with Lithuania’s EU entry. S. Mironov, Federation Council Chairman, proposes to adhere to the same policy. During a press conference in Omsk he expressed the opinion that “Lithuania’s entry to the EU must be preconditioned by provisions that would facilitate easier travel of Russians from the Kaliningrad region to other Russian regions.“8
Assessing such statements, it is difficult not to speculate that the visa issue serves only as a tool of questioning the EU and NATO enlargement further to the East, especially with reference to specific EU and NATO articles on balanced bilateral relationship of a candidate country with its neighbors9. If this is the case in approach of Russia towards the Kaliningrad issue, then such tactics will not be too promising since the aim is way too apparent, and its influence on the interpretation of the mentioned articles should be minimal. Excerpts from the Regular Report on Lithuania’s Progress towards Accession 2002 support such interpretation, since it comments on the Lithuanian – Russian relationships in the following manner: „On the bilateral level, Lithuania has continued to develop good relations with neighbouring countries. In particular, in its relations with Russia, Lithuania has continued to emphasise the development of far-reaching cooperation with the Russian region of Kaliningrad in order to help address the issues related to this region in a comprehensive way.“ The EU also registered Lithuania’s problems with establishing new consulate offices in Russia and Belarus, and EU’s statement that a success depends on mutual cooperation of interested parties is clear: „In November Lithuania requested permission from the Russian Federation to open a consulate in Sovetsk (Kaliningrad) and from Belarus to open a general consulate in Grodno, but no reply has yet been received… Lithuania should continue its efforts to open and enlarge its consular facilities in Kaliningrad, in mainland Russia and in Belarus. It should however be noted that the success of these efforts depends, inter alia, on cooperation by the countries concerned.“
In spite of Moscow’s various activities one can hardly imagine that travel through Lithuanian territory will remain the same for Russian citizens as it is now. Russia will have to reconcile with a certain way of transit control of citizens travelling between both parts of Russia, be it in the form of visas or a specific kind of “softer” travel documents. References to double standards and citations of examples of non-EU countries to which the Schengen regime does not apply, is not a sufficient argument for changing the current EU position. Deputies of the Duma often mention the example of Switzerland10, whose citizens do not need visas for travel to the EU countries. Such comparison is unthinkable, because Switzerland is not a transit country for illegal immigrants, it is not a source of smuggled goods of an often dangerous substance, and Swiss citizens are not a source of security risks, while problems with Russian organized crime are well known throughout Europe.11
Unless these problems are taken care of, an appeal to political will necessary to solve the current problems is not adequate. That does not apply only to the issue of transit through the territory of Lithuania, but also to Russian proposal to start negotiations with the EU on a visa-free regime. The EC commented this proposal: „This discussion offers an opportunity to discuss the measures which Russia is putting in place to strengthen the rule of law, to intensify the fight against organised crime, to ensure border security and that travel documents are secure and accurate. At the same time, the EU is keen to increase co-operation on border management, which are essential to tackling trans-border crime and illegal migration as well as preventing the free movement.“12
One of the options how to solve transit between both parts of Russia is a variant with sealed express trains that would only be passing through Lithuanian territory with passengers needing no visas aboard. Such idea could become a possible solution, but its realization would require some time, both for political and technical reasons.13 Lithuania itself considers discussion of this variant possible only after its EU accession, to name one of the political reasons. As for technical reasons, establishment of the whole project is more complicated than how it is presented by Russia. Positions of Russia and the EU significantly vary over this issue: „The European Commission considers that the technical preconditions for the safe and secure operation of visa-free travel by trains do not at this stage exist – trains and tracks would need to be upgraded…“14
The EU countries do not present a unanimous opinion, because France, Italy, Spain and Greece15 wanted to prepare a feasibility study on this topic, but still it is not very likely that anything significant would happen before Lithuania’s accession to the EU. Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh told reporters after the EU foreign ministers session in Brussels on September 30, 2002: "We have seen very clear pro-Russian efforts from some member states but we agreed it is important to find a solution which is within Schengen."
Summary of all the above mentioned facts together with realistic prognoses of further development indicate that Russia will not succeed significantly in its efforts to keep status quo in the issue of transit of Russian citizens to and from Kaliningrad region. The first stage will most probably bring a special modified visa regime for transit through the Lithuanian territory. Lithuania took the first step in this direction by announcement of its Ministry of Foreign Affairs towards Russia to start negotiations on the topic: „The Lithuanian MFA announced that the Government had decided to allow permanent residents of the Kaliningrad Region of the Russian Federation to arrive in Lithuania without visas until 1 July 2003. The Lithuanian MFA also invited Russian diplomats to start negotiations on a new provisional agreement, which would comply with EU requirements and stipulate visa issuance procedure privileges for international carriers, representatives of art, culture, sports and senior citizens aged above 60. The draft agreement suggests cheap long-term visas without preceding invitation for Lithuanian citizens travelling to the Kaliningrad Region and residents of Kaliningrad travelling the opposite way. The Lithuanian MFA proposed that the new agreement could come into effect from 1 January 2003.“16
Voices questioning fairness of EU approach towards cooperation with Russia can be heard on the Russian scene, but even the best relationship between both parties would not deflect the prepared measures, and the EU shall not be blamed for these. The question is what did Russia do to make it more difficult for Lithuania and the EU respectively to introduce these measures. The answer would be very simple: nothing, or very little. Chairman of the Kaliningrad Duma V. Nikitin admitted that in an interview for radio station Svoboda: “Russia was not capable to take a decision with the EU about system of connection between citizens of Kaliningrad region and Russian mainland for a long time. These issues should have been discussed earlier, since 1999, when it was obvious that Baltic countries were willing to join the EU and that the matter as such has been decided and agreed on. Russia somehow adhered to an illusion that it would not take place, that Baltic countries would not be accepted to the EU for another 10 or 15 years, that accession talks were held only because of a respect to these countries. But they will join the EU. Very soon. Russia woke up too late.” 17
Even though Mr. Nikitin blames the EU on this issue just the same as he blames Russia, his stance indicates, and he is not the only one, that Russia realizes underestimation of the situation. Russia relied only on the high level of its relationship with the EU, and it did not pay sufficient attention to solving the practical issues such as the Kaliningrad one. Rather sad statements of President Putin about good personal relationship with Romano Prodi that should “have its impact on the level of political decisions”18 go into the context of the situation. Good relationship with Russia is definitely important for the EU, but EU cannot disregard its own rules for the sake of good relationships.
The EU understands Russian problems with Kaliningrad, and proposes certain solutions, but those should be implemented within specific framework. Committee on Foreign Affairs, Human Rights, Common Security and Defence Policy of European Parliament for example defined:„Neighbouring countries which have requested the authorisation to open or expand consulates in Kaliningrad are still waiting for a positive reaction from the Russian side; supports Commissioner Patten in his call for Russia to make it easier for Kaliningraders to obtain international passports; reminds Russia about the need to issue passports meeting international standards, ratify border agreements, sign and ratify re-admission agreements with the EU and countries bordering the Kaliningrad region and take steps necessary for the developing of infrastructure of border-crossing points.“19
Lithuania’s appeal to discuss a readmission treaty did not meet with any reaction from Moscow; the border treaty was held in the State Duma for five long years; situation in Kaliningrad is not very optimistic20; and even the discussion about sealed trains is more or less just theoretical. Or did Russia submit any proposal with reliable solution of technical details of such transportation? Current hectic activities of Rogozin, Russian President’s special representative for Kaliningrad, and discussions of Duma deputies cannot significantly change the situation.
Neglected problem that could have been solved in various ways at its early stage cannot be deflected now by requests for exceptions and political will of partners. Nor does it help to point out double standards of Western countries. Statements that the Kaliningrad issue and its solution process will show the real value of EU – Russian relationship leave minimum impact too:„We believe that before the Russia-EU summit scheduled for November 11 in Copenhagen, mutually acceptable solutions to the problem of transit trips of Russian citizens must be worked out, and are ready to continue the intensive work within the framework of existing consultation mechanisms. Finding those solutions would be a striking and convincing testimony to the formation of the relations of strategic partnership between Russia and the European Union.“21
Peremptory statements of Russian politicians about unacceptability of introduction of documents that complicate travel of Russian citizens from one region to another one transformed the issue into a national political problem. Now it is mainly up to the President to find solution to this situation without losing the high level of prestige he enjoys in Russia. In the case of NATO enlargement to the East he followed the rule of action and reaction, or rather non-action and non-reaction, which meant that minimal protests of senior Russian representatives created smaller domestic backlash. In the case of Kaliningrad a different approach was chosen, and Russian society closely follows development of the situation.
Interested parties cannot come to terms at the current stage, and negotiations are at a deadlock created by exaggerated Russian demands that are unacceptable to Lithuania. Lithuania’s will of concession is probably somewhere around introduction of FTD, which could have a chance to be implemented only in case of certain EU guarantees.
But what are the options for Russia, since it will have to accept certain kind of control of its citizens travelling on the territory of Lithuania? Russian political representatives can comfort the society with possible consultations with the EU about the visa duty abrogation, but these talks are not too promising even within the medium term horizon. Stronger EU financial activities in the Kaliningrad region could be taken as a way of compensation, which means that Brussels would have to pay for the EU enlargement. That would not be the first such result of negotiations between Russia and Western countries, and probably also not the last one. Moscow has already once sent a list to Brussels with calculation of damages that will be caused to Russia by the EU enlargement. Certain Russian politicians claim that it is necessary to look at the Kaliningrad issue not only from political and moral point of view, but also from an economic one, which means to discuss the damages caused by introduction of visas and change in the status of the region …22
The EU is reflecting upon such variant, as is obvious from the already mentioned statement of the European Parliament, which “calls on the Commission to contact Russia offering to open a branch of the EU mission in Kaliningrad, so that it can have an on-site presence to support the successful implementation of the EU action programme for the Kaliningrad region in cooperation with Russia; considers it conceivable that this branch might in future be given other tasks too. Points out that Kaliningrad, as part of Russia, will automatically join the Common European Economic Space, but that its successful integration can only be achieved if Moscow also develops a stable, consistent strategy for Kaliningrad, thereby sending a clear signal regarding the nature and extent of its future involvement in the area from a political, economic and regulatory point of view.”23
Russia would be given a chance to cooperate closely with the EU in the Kaliningrad region, and could fulfil President Putin’s words that “people surrounded by affluence should be entitled to a certain degree of affluence as well.” 24 So far the situation in Kaliningrad is far from affluence, but it could change and let the citizens of the region forget even the visa duty, especially if the visa procedure becomes a non-problematic case. The question is reaction of Russia to stronger EU presence in Kaliningrad, because some Russian politicians already worried that a more prosperous region could start thinking about more independent status for itself. And it is not only Russian politicians that express their worries.25 It would definitely be better to evaluate the current situation and use the opportunity to create a Baltic zone of prosperity and cooperation rather than to think about where would the citizens of Kaliningrad want to belong. A chance can turn into reality when the topical problems are clarified and the obstacles overcome.
Implementation of projects prepared both by Russian government and by European Union could be instrumental in such process.26 Critics of Russian program point out the sad destiny of preceding plans for Kaliningrad region, and they are of an opinion that the fate of new Russian initiative will be very much the same.27 It seems that this time the situation is different since Moscow understands very well the new level of the issue, once the enclave is surrounded by EU and NATO: “Further EU and NATO enlargement increases the danger of economic and military-political isolation of the region. This region will turn into a Russian enclave in a unified pan-European area. It is necessary to adopt prerequisite measures on a federal level that will protect national interests and security of Russian Federation on the territory of the Kaliningrad region.” 28
Negotiations about transit system between Kaliningrad region and mainland will have its impact on the process of looking for outcome of mutual interests and on the improvement of situation in the region. This fact should be taken into consideration as one of the fundamental pillars for negotiations at meetings preceding the Summit in Copenhagen and during the summit as well.
1Commission of the European Communities, Communication from the Commission to the Council. Kaliningrad: Transit, Brussels 18.9. 2002, Annex I, 1.-2.
2Concerning Adoption of a Conclusion on Kaliningrad by the European Union External Relations Council at Foreign Ministers' Level, 1964-01-10-2002. www.mid.ru
6The author refers to the 5th article of the Potsdam Treaty that notes: „The Conference examined a proposal by the Soviet Government to the effect that, pending the final determination of territorial questions at the peace settlement, the section of the western frontier of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics which is adjacent to the Baltic Sea should pass from a point on the eastern shore of the Bay of Danzig to the east, north of Braunsberg-Goldap, to the meeting point of the frontiers of Lithuania, the Polish Republic and East Prussia. The Conference has agreed in principle to the proposal of the Soviet Government concerning the ultimate transfer to the Soviet Union of the City of K?nigsberg and the area adjacent to it as described above subject to expert examination of the actual frontier. The President of the United States and the British Prime Minister have declared that they will support the proposal of the Conference at the forthcoming peace settlement.“
7Shishkaryov, S., Schengen Zone for Double Standards, www.russianobserver.com/print/15660.html. Such approach to the problem, whatever its original intention was, only creates corresponding reaction. Lithuanian organization the Council on Lithuania Minor Affairs for example distributed a letter questioning the territorial right of Russia to the Kaliningrad region. http://www.takas.lt/english/naujienos_en.php?msg_id=2149&tipas=p
8S. Mironov, Omsk 10.6. 2002. http://www.elections.koenig.ru/news.phtml?code=1386
9 Copenhagen criteria adopted by EU in 1993 and VIII. Article of The North Atlantic Treaty adopted on April 4, 194,9 are mentioned in this connection.
11Statement of deputies that sharply and without supporting arguments rejects worries of the EU is typical for Russian approach towards the whole complex of problems connected with Kaliningrad: „Considerations of senior EU officials that visa-free transit of Russian Federation citizens through the territory of Lithuania and Poland is dangerous because of a possible penetration of illegal immigrants and criminals from Russia to the EU countries, is not justified and is offending. … The logic of European officials transforms 150 million Russian citizens into criminals.“ At this level of discussion it is really difficult to come to a mutual conclusion how to solve the situation. http://wbase.duma.gov.ru/ntc/vdoc.asp?kl=11081
12 Kaliningrad: Commission proposes set of measures to ease transit after enlargement. Press release, Brussels, 18 September 2002. It is not only about the transit issue. Russia’s will to improve situation in the region will be reflected in the intensity of the EU engagement in the region: „As part of the continuing dialogue between the Russian Federation and the EU within the framework of the PCA, Kaliningrad oblast presents a challenge for enhanced regional cooperation and development. Kaliningrad’s capacity to take advantage of the opportunities presented by enlargement would require significant internal adjustment e.g. in the field of customs and border controls, fight against organised crime and corruption, structural reform, public administration and human resources.“ http://europa.eu.int/comm/external_relations/north_dim/ndap/06_00_en.pdf
13 State Duma declared the sealed trains variant to be „an extremely humiliating one“, and appealed to Russian executive bodies to keep during negotiations with the EU „a stringent, uncompromising position, a position that will not allow violation of constitutional right of freedom of movement for Russian citizens throughout the whole territory of Russian Federation“. http://wbase.duma.gov.ru/ntc/vdoc.asp?kl=11081
14 Kaliningrad: Commission proposes set of measures to ease transit after enlargement. Press release, Brussels, 18 September 2002.
15 Financial Times, 27.9. 2002
19Report on the communication from the Commission to the Council on the EU and Kaliningrad, 25 April 2002, p. 8. www2.europarl.eu.int/omk/sipade2?PUBREF=-//EP//NONSGML+REPORT+A5-2002-0156+0+DOC+WORD+V0//EN&L=EN&LEVEL=3&NAV=S&LSTDOC=Y
20The federal program „Razvitie Kaliningradskoj oblasti do 2010 goda“ states for example that the level of industrial production in the region for the year 2000 was at 40% of the production from the year 1990 (54% is the number for mainland); the unemployment rate is at 15.9%; the tuberculosis rate is 91.5 in every 100,000 citizens; situation with HIV virus is alarming. www.government.kaliningrad.ru/ofederal.php3
211 Concerning Adoption of a Conclusion on Kaliningrad by the European Union External Relations Council at Foreign Ministers' Level, 1964-01-10-2002, www.mid.ru
22 This thought appeared for example in an interview with Deputy Chairman of Kaliningrad Duma S. Kozlov. At the same time he criticizes politicizing of the problem by several State Duma deputies. http://www.rosbalt.ru/news/70106.html
25Site www.apn.ru/lenta/2002/7/9/19155 even brought „alarming“ information that President Putin held secret talks about plan on how to transfer Kaliningrad region to Germany.
26On December 7, Russian government passed through a program „Razvitie Kaliningradskoj oblasti do 2010 goda“, that expects investments into the region of 93,049.74 million rubles within an eight years period, and also expects strong participation of foreign investors and companies. http://www.government.kaliningrad.ru/ofederal.php3 Following sites bring information on EU activities in the region: