The future of Russia’s enclave on the Baltic coast, the Kaliningrad region, has become the key topic of the discussion for the politicians of Eastern Europe, Russia, and the European Union. It seems to be quite natural. After the entry of Poland and Lithuania into the EU, the people of the Kaliningrad region will face grave problems. The neighboring states plan to introduce a visa regime for the region’s population, as required by the European Union. As a result, the people will have to give up frequent visits to Russia, as the payment for a visa is a considerable amount for majority of the families there. Some citizens of the region may also lose their earnings at that. It is an open secret that over half of the region’s population earn their incomes by selling goods brought from abroad or by driving cars from Germany for sale in Russia. In any case, the introduction of a visa regime means more problems for the Kaliningrad region.
Russia’s Baltic Fleet is based in the Kaliningrad region. Its fate after Poland’s and Lithuania’s incorporation into the EU is not clear so far. The fleet's bases may become another stumbling block in Russia-EU relations, almost all members of which are also NATO members.
In addition to economic, social, and military problems, the introduction of a visa regime may entail political problems as well. Isolation of the enclave from the rest of Russia’s territory playing with separation of the Kaliningrad region from the country. There are some historical preconditions for it. Russia accepted Kaliningrad only 57 years ago. Until then, the city was named Konigsberg, and it was the capital of Eastern Prussia. Although the German authorities say they do not claim to the enclave, the hundreds of historical years of the city cannot be ignored.
Several meetings of the Baltic prime ministers and foreign ministers on the Kaliningrad region’s future took place on March 6-7. Talks between Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and his Polish and Lithuanian colleagues Leszek Miller and Algirdas Brazauskas were held in Kaliningrad on March 6. Head of the EU Commission for External Relations Christopher Patten, ex-governor of Hong Kong, participated in the talks as well. Along with the talks, the 11th session of the Baltic countries’ council started. The prime ministers also visited this session. The status of the Kaliningrad region became the key topic for the discussion at the session. However, the talks have failed to achieve any progress. Russia still insists that a preferential visa regime is to be designed for the population of the Kaliningrad region. However, Poland and Lithuania are reluctant to support Russia’s position. It is clear that Warsaw and Vilnius have to coordinate their policies with the European Union, whether they like it or not. The EU, in its turn, puts a special emphasis on the unsatisfactory economic and criminal situation in the Kaliningrad region.
All parties involved in the discussion of the region’s fate agree that Kaliningrad may be kind of a bridge in the establishment of closer Russia-EU cooperation. However, the intention seems to be hardly feasible now. We know that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
The emphasis on the problems of the Kaliningrad region by European politicians is leading to a distressing conclusion: either the European Union is not sure about the future of the Russian enclave (interests of all parties concerned are to be maximally taken into consideration at that) or a strict visa regime will be introduced for the region’s population. If the second variant is true, the situation seems to be hopeless. Moscow will hardly agree to such a point of view. The problem may hamper the establishment of closer relations between Moscow and the European Union. If the events develop like this, no partnership can be expected at all.
However, there is some time for solution of the problem. A visa regime for the people of the Kaliningrad region is planned to be introduced only in 2003. This means that all parties concerned have enough time to coordinate their positions concerning the problem. Kaliningrad is the place where future relations between Russia and the European Union are being decided upon now.
Oleg Artyukov PRAVDA.Ru
Translated by Maria Gousseva
Read the original in Russian: http://www.pravda.ru/main/2002/03/07/38007.html