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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

No Building for German Consulate

For MTCornelius Sommer
ST. PETERSBURG -- More than six months after being sworn in as Germany's consul general in the Kaliningrad region, Cornelius Sommer is still working out of a hotel after repeated refusals to approve a consulate building.

The delay flies in the face of friendly relations between Germany and Russia -- the latest sign being the recent announcement that German Chancellor Gerhard Schr?der has adopted a St. Petersburg orphan -- and could be an issue raised by Schr?der when he meets with President Vladimir Putin on Monday and Tuesday in Sochi or on Sept. 10 in Hamburg.

Sommer said he has found five suitable consulate buildings in the western exclave, but Kaliningrad Governor Vladimir Yegorov has turned them all down without explanation.

"At one time the Foreign Ministry in Moscow told me that it's a decision that must be made in Kaliningrad," Sommer said by telephone late last week from his temporary consulate in the Albertina hotel in Kaliningrad. "The governor of Kaliningrad says publicly on television that it is Moscow that has to decide. He says this is an international practice, which is not true."

He added: "The Foreign Ministry in Moscow says that if you help us with our problems in Germany, it will be a bit easier for you. But they don't specify how."

In the meantime, Kaliningrad residents who want German visas have to send their documents to the German Embassy in Moscow, which is located almost twice as far away from Kaliningrad as Berlin.

Just over 8,000 Kaliningrad residents applied for German visas in 2003, but the diplomatic mission expects the number to grow to 10,000 to 15,000 per year if they can obtain them in Kaliningrad.

The Germans are not the only ones looking for buildings for their diplomatic missions. The Latvians, Lithuanians and Swedes have also been trying to secure buildings for months.

State Duma Deputy Igor Rudnikov, who represents Kaliningrad, said he suspects the authorities have deliberately made it difficult for the Germans.

"It is not in the interest of the local and federal authorities to let people get visas more easily," said Rudnikov, who has been helping Sommer scout for a suitable building. "This is an easy way to stop locals from developing wider contacts with the European Union rather than with the rest of Russia.

A Kaliningrad administration official refused to comment on the issue.

"The question is under consideration, and to comment on this I have to look through documents," Svetlana Dinisenko, acting head of the Kaliningrad region's property committee, said by telephone Thursday. "But you must understand that I'm an official and can't do such things over the phone."

A Foreign Ministry official said the long search is "a normal process."

"There's nothing wrong with it," said Dmitry Lyublinsky, deputy head of the Third European department at the Foreign Ministry. "They are in the process of selecting a building and approving it with the local authorities.

"The Lithuanians, Swedes and Latvians have also looked for quite a while," he said. "That's because there's a bad real estate market. What else can I say?"