Tight Spot

Border Kaliningrad
Near the village of Novoselovo, Kaliningrad, a dismantled highway that once ran to Berlin (Photo: AFP).

If the talk in Brussels is to be believed, Lithuania and Poland could gain entry to the European Union (EU) as early as 2004. When they do, the current complications involving Kaliningrad Oblast—a Russian territorial enclave bounded by Lithuania to the north and Poland to the south—could turn nightmarish. Already there is a heated debate over how to ensure the free travel of Russian citizens between the territory, whose capital is also known as Kaliningrad, and Russia proper.

Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kaliningrad’s status as a Russian territory was of little practical significance, since both Russia and Lithuania were components of the same state. But when Lithuania and Poland freed themselves from Soviet tutelage, Kaliningrad Oblast’s 1 million or so inhabitants became stranded from their co-nationals.

As EU members, Lithuania and Poland will have to find a way to enable Russians’ freedom of movement while preventing their unregulated entry into the EU. One possible solution—the cancellation of visa-free travel by Kaliningraders to Lithuania and Poland—has met strong resistance in Moscow.

On Aug. 3, Dmitri Rogozin, Russia’s presidential representative for Kaliningrad, ruled out another proposal: sealed train cars to transport Russian citizens between the enclave and Russia proper. “None of us will be traveling to and from Kaliningrad in locked railway cars like livestock; we shall not tolerate this humiliation,” Rogozin told Russia’s Radio Mayak.

Kaliningrad, formerly Königsberg, was a part of Germany until 1945. As Izvestiya’s Grigori Bovt observed (centrist daily, Moscow, July 17), the focus of EU concern is the fact that the enclave is a center for illegal immigration, smuggling, and car theft.

In an editorial, Lietuvos Rytas (independent, Vilnius) expressed satisfaction at what it saw as the EU’s firm position toward Moscow (July 25): “The EU’s cold wall of pragmatism has lessened the intensity of Russia’s protests regarding the introduction of visas for Kaliningrad.” Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus has been equally firm, declaring: “Russia’s objective, to ensure easier transit conditions for its residents, is understandable. However, this goal cannot and will not be implemented at the expense of Lithuanian or EU sovereignty.”

EU unity, such as it is, suffered a blow in July, when French President Jacques Chirac declared: “There can be no solution that would be humiliating to Russia.” Lietuvos Zinios noted with satisfaction that Chirac’s remarks seemed to carry little weight beyond Russia (July 24). Yet the same day, Lietuvos Rytas detected greater sympathy in Europe for Moscow’s concerns. “The tone of Brussels is not categorical,” the daily asserted. “The EU emphasizes that the situation will be resolved in a flexible way. Visas for Kaliningrad will no longer be called visas. The EU repeated this position to Russia during the recent meeting [on May 15] on Kaliningrad.”

In Poland, reaction to Russian concerns has been skeptical. Political analyst Jacek Cichocki argued in Rzeczpospolita (centrist, Warsaw, July 13) that the transit problem was being greatly exaggerated because the discussion ignored alternate routes to Russia (by air and sea).