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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EU Softens Stance Over Kaliningrad

APEuropean Commission President Romano Prodi discussing the Kaliningrad visa proposals in Brussels on Wednesday.
The European Union's executive body said Wednesday it will consider allowing visa-free travel to Russian citizens going between the Kaliningrad exclave and the rest of Russia in sealed, high-speed trains.

The European Commission also suggested giving facilitated transit documents to frequent travelers that would allow multiple trips through Lithuania and Poland after they join the EU in 2004.

Silvia Kofler, a spokeswoman for the European Commission in Russia, said the fact that the European Commission was willing to soften its demands indicated a "step forward" in what has become a bitter visa dispute between Russia and the EU.

President Vladimir Putin has demanded that Russians be granted visa-free travel to and from Kaliningrad once it is surrounded by EU member states. At the moment, Russians only need an insert in their internal passports for transit through Lithuania and a special voucher for Poland. Citizens of EU countries do not require visas to travel within the union in accordance with the EU's Schengen agreement.

The technical feasibility of the train option will not be studied until after Lithuania and Poland are admitted, the European Commission said Wednesday in a statement. And the proposal faces an uphill battle -- EU officials have argued that passengers would be able to jump off the trains.

The European Commission said facilitated transit documents, or FTDs, would be issued by Polish and Lithuanian consulates at low or no cost. Russian government agencies would compile lists of frequent travelers and submit them to the consulates.

"You could call it a Kaliningrad pass," European Commission President Romano Prodi said in televised remarks.

However, as in the case with visas, consulates would be able to reject applications. Also, from 2005 travelers would no longer be able to use internal passports and have to obtain foreign travel passports to apply for FTDs.

Russians who do not qualify for FTDs would have to get foreign passports even before 2004.

Kaliningrad Governor Vladimir Yegorov welcomed the EU announcement as a step forward.

However, Dmitry Rogozin, Putin's envoy in negotiations over Kaliningrad, expressed dissatisfaction with the proposals and said the EU and Russia remain far apart on the issue.

Only 30 percent of Kaliningrad residents have foreign passports, and it would cost half a billion rubles to issue such passports to the rest by 2004, said Sergei Zolotukhin, a deputy in the Kaliningrad regional parliament.

He said 960,000 people traveled between mainland Russia and Kaliningrad by rail last year, and another 520,000 went by road.

He said Russia should win a EU guarantee before 2004 that the train option would be implemented.

EU foreign ministers will meet in Brussels on Sept. 30 to formally consider the commission's proposals. They will then be discussed at a EU-Russia summit in November.

Lithuania's Foreign Ministry announced Wednesday that it would accept the proposals.