Kaliningrad: Russia's Headache

Article published on March 26, 2004
community published
Article published on March 26, 2004

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As of May 1st, the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, stuck between Poland and Lithuania, will be surrounded by European Union member states. Will this mean the creation of a so-called ‘crystal curtain’ or a new opportunity for European integration?

Relations between the European Union and Russia have become increasingly important in the context of European enlargement. Brussels and Moscow have issued several joint declarations establishing strategic partnerships in order to prevent the creation of a new ‘crystal curtain’ on the other side of the EU’s new borders on May 1st - a curtain which would cut Russia off from the rest of Europe. With this in mind, Kaliningrad’s situation is a striking example of the potentially damaging consequences of the EU integration process.

Ever since Poland and Lithuania introduced new visas for Russian citizens and started preparing to introduce the Schengen legislation, the Russian territory of Kaliningrad has been isolated from the Mother Country. Less than a year after the introduction of a new system to make the movement of its people easier, has the situation improved at all?

Ringggg! It’s time for enlargement!

To go back to the beginning, Moscow only picked up on the fact that Kaliningrad would be cast adrift because of the enlargement process rather late in the day. This belated wake-up call only strengthened the feeling in Russia that it was being presented with a fait accompli, namely the acquis communautaire and the Schengen legislation. Similarly, the European Union only very recently recognised the need to regulate the movement of Russians living in Kaliningrad and it was only in 2001, just three years before enlargement, that the EU started to discuss the Kaliningrad question. However, the Union still didn’t recognise the need for specific arrangements for the free movement of these people. The topic was only politicised in 2002 after it became the cause of heightened tension between the two main players. Only then did the EU decide to concentrate its mind on the problem and agree that measures must be introduced to make the movement of Russians between Kaliningrad and the rest of their country easier. Tripartite negotiations (between Russian, the EU and Lithuania) were put into motion and concluded in spring 2003 with a series of measures which came into force on 1st July 2003.

FTDs aim to make transit easier

This new project introduced two main documents that would make transit through Lithuania to and from Russia easier: the first set of documents, Facilitated Transit Documents (FTD), cover Russian citizens crossing Lithuania by road and are valid for one year. The second, Facilitated Rail Transit Documents (FRTD), are only given to people crossing Lithuanian territory by train. The two documents are free of charge. This new regulation has required significant extra funding to cope with the number of applications. A new Lithuanian consulate even had to be set up in Sovietsk, the second biggest town in the territory. However, the situation is not perfect - despite efforts made by the Lithuanian authorities, never-ending queues build up every day in front of the Lithuanian consulates and the minimum time it takes to get these much discussed papers is seven or eight days.

Looking for alternative solutions

However, one year after the launch of this initiative, the system is still in need of modification. The EU is currently considering the possibility of a high speed train link between Kaliningrad and St Petersburg, thereby avoiding altogether the need for separate travel documents. Although feasibility reports are currently being drawn up, the EU still believes that the current solution should remain in place. Russia, on the other hand, is overwhelmingly in favour of introducing a scheme without any visas.

The ‘integrationist’ spirit of the EU has resulted in the absurd isolation of the area of Russia (formerly part of Germany) where Kant was born. The new transit scheme is a clear example of the Union meddling in Russian domestic policy. Against its will, Russia has had to stand by and watch the implementation of the Schengen legislation. EU speeches always boast about the advantages of enlargement and its ‘integrationist’ principles, proclaiming the beneficial effects for the stability and peace of Europe. Despite this, its efforts seem to go no further than the EU’s own borders. Behind the new ‘demarcation lines’, a border population is being pushed back from this new area of European freedom and security.