Russia and Lithuania strike deal on Kaliningrad

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“A unique solution” on the technical details of the problem of transit – from the Kaliningrad region to mainland Russia and backwards across the territory of Lithuania – was achieved this week during negotiations between Vilnius and Moscow.

According to Dmitry Rogozin, the Russian President’s special representative for Kaliningrad, the negotiations between the European Union and Lithuania are almost complete.

Under a political deal agreed at the EU-Russia summit in November last year, Russian citizens will be allowed to travel between Kaliningrad and the Russian mainland using a ‘special facilitated transit document’.

A railway transport document had seemed to be a major bone of the contention. While Moscow wanted the document to be accessible and easy to buy, Vilnius attempted to keep control over the traffic through Lithuanian territory and right to refuse entry into its territory.

Under the current EU rules Russian citizens are obliged to have visas when travelling to the Schengen area. According to Dmitry Rogozin the EU’s approach to Schengen regime, which he regarded as a dogmatic, has changed.

At a press meeting in Moscow, Mr Rogozin suggested that following yesterday’s agreement the EU could introduce amendments to the Schengen rules. But EU sources deny this.

Facilitated transit documents can be implemented within the current EU rules and have no influence on the Schengen acquis, an EU diplomatic source told EUobserver.

The EU is now going to look closely at the practical aspects of the deal. The special transit rules for Russian citizens should be introduced by Lithuania in July 2003. Vilnius hopes to join the Schengen area together with other acceding countries, but this is not likely to take place before 2007.

Russian citizens travelling to or from Kaliningrad by train will be able to buy tickets in a booking office a minimum of 24 hours before departure. Passengers will fill in a questionnaire and receive transit documents on the train.

The document should be easily accessible for Russians travelling frequently to and from Kaliningrad, at the price of five euro and valid for three years, details unveiled yesterday by Russian and Lithuanian diplomats after the bilateral meeting in Moscow.

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