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Kaliningrad transit and visa issues revisited

E. Vinokurov

CEPS Commentary.

The first crisis in EU-Russia relations over the ‘Kaliningrad transit’ issue took place in 2002-03, when Lithuania introduced a visa regime. That move provoked strong concerns in Russia that its Kaliningrad Region would be politically and economically detached from the mainland. Russia and Lithuania managed to reach a half-hearted compromise, which was implemented in July 2003. The compromise was at best temporary, however, since it was already known that Lithuania aspired to join the Schengen zone a few years later. Now that Lithuania will most probably join the Schengen zone by late 2007, that time has now about come. The consultations on the Kaliningrad transit issue are ongoing, although a final decision is not yet in sight. The prospects of achieving a comprehensive breakthrough are dim, due to the shallow nature of EU-Russia relations. To avoid a new crisis, another compromise is needed. At the 10th EU-Russia Summit in November 2002, the parties agreed to pursue a comprehensive package of measures to make it easier to move across Kaliningrad’s borders. The core aspect of the agreement was the creation of two types of documents for transiting Lithuania to and from mainland Russia, the Facilitated Transit Document (FTD) for cars and buses and the Facilitated Railway Transit Document (FRTD). While the FTD is issued at Lithuanian consulates, the FRTD is issued directly on the train on the basis of personal information supplied by the passenger when buying the ticket in advance. The EU agreed to bear the additional costs that arose on the Lithuanian side, which have amounted to €40 million over the three years since the start of the scheme. The FRTD scheme functions smoothly. The millionth FRTD was issued to a six year-old boy travelling from Anapa to Kaliningrad on 3 March 2006. That makes a million documents in 32 months. By contrast, the FTD has proved to be redundant, as people prefer to receive full-scale multi-entry Lithuanian visas, which so far are available free of charge for Kaliningrad residents. The situation might change however when the free visas will be superseded by the new EU-Russia visa facilitation agreement, which sets the price at €35 and does not foresee an exception for Kaliningrad residents. It might provide an impetus for them to apply for free FTDs instead of visas.

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