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Wednesday, 6 March, 2002, 18:13 GMT
Russia sounds Kaliningrad warning
Kaliningrad border post
Kaliningrad will become a Russian outpost inside the EU
Russia's prime minister has called on Europe to do more to protect the impoverished enclave of Kaliningrad, which will become surrounded by EU countries as the union expands eastwards.

Mikhail Kasyanov told a major gathering of foreign ministers in the territory that Kaliningrad risked becoming a "dead end".

Kaliningrad should become a bridge to Europe, not a dead-end

Mikhail Kasyanov
Russian PM
Kaliningrad, which lies on the Baltic Sea, is sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania, both of which are set to join the European Union within two years.

At the moment, neither country demands visas for Kaliningrad residents, but this will change from 1 July 2003, in preparation for EU accession.

Fears have been expressed that the move will leave Kaliningrad more isolated than ever from Russia.

We cannot override our basic rules here

Chris Patten
EU external affairs commissioner
Mr Kasyanov was speaking during the two-day talks, which involved 11 countries from the Baltic Sea region.

He also held separate talks with the Polish and Lithuanian prime ministers and EU Commissioner for External Affairs Chris Patten.

'One million stranded'

Addressing the Council of Baltic Sea States in the seaside resort of Svetlogorsk, Mr Kasyanov made clear that the strict visa requirements laid down by Brussels would be a problem.

"Kaliningrad should become a bridge to Europe, not a dead-end," he said.

"It is difficult to imagine that some truck driver from Kaliningrad would need to get a visa to take his shipment to Smolensk [in Russia]."

Map showing Kaliningrad
"We are trying to convince our partners on the need for a visa-free regime for Kaliningraders. That would be the ideal but our main goal is to ensure that there is no worsening in the living conditions of the region's residents," he added.

Kaliningrad's one million residents could, in effect, be cut off from both Russia and Europe, he warned.

Sticking points

But EU officials have indicated that although Brussels wants to reach a deal with Moscow, it would not waive strict visa rules for inhabitants of the region.

"We cannot override our basic rules here, including Schengen, nor undermine the [EU] enlargement negotiations themselves," said Mr Patten in a statement released in Brussels.

Europe is also concerned that Kaliningrad's well-established networks of organised crime could create problems if border security is not adequate. The territory is also a major polluter.

Moscow is unwilling to give Kaliningrad a special status, afraid of creating a precedent for other Russian regions.

For their part, Poland and Lithuania are adamantly opposed to the Russian idea of a special transit corridor to Kaliningrad using non-stop sealed trains - an opinion shared by European Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen.

The governor of Kaliningrad, Vladimir Yegorov, says he wants to preserve some form of privileged status for residents, who often have relatives living in mainland Russia or in other countries in the region.

The Council of Baltic States meeting involves representatives from Russia, Germany, Poland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

See also:

15 Feb 01 | Europe
Russia's enclave of grim problems
01 Feb 02 | Europe
Russia launches fast-track visas
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