Putin Stands Firm on Kaliningrad Issue

APNavy cadets taking photographs of their girlfriends near Dvortsovy Bridge in St. Petersburg, where the Baltic summit was held.
ST. PETERSBURG -- President Vladimir Putin on Monday lashed out at suggestions the Kaliningrad enclave be shut off from the rest of the country by visa controls when its neighbors become members of the European Union, saying current proposals to solve the problem were "worse than the Cold War."

The issue of Kaliningrad dominated the biannual summit of the Council of the Baltic Sea States, and pitted Russia against former Soviet republics and satellites that hope to join the EU.

"We'll never agree to a violation of the Russian Federation's sovereignty," Putin told the meeting. "The visa regime should be unified for all citizens of the Russian Federation no matter where they live."

The EU and Russia have been looking for solutions to problems foreseen when Kaliningrad's neighbors Poland and Lithuania join the EU in 2004. Membership will force those countries to toughen border controls with the enclave, which the Soviet Union acquired from Germany after World War II.

An EU summit in Moscow last month failed to reach agreement on the issue.

Putin's preferred plan would be for a transport corridor allowing Kaliningrad residents the ability to travel visa-free between the enclave and the rest of Russia. Now, residents are allowed to travel visa-free to neighboring countries.

Putin compared to the system devised in the 1970s for travel between West Berlin and the rest of West Germany.

"Even then, at the peak of the Cold War, they did find solutions to these problems," Putin said. "Perhaps that's not the best solution possible, bringing us back to the time of a Cold War of sorts. But what we're hearing today is worse than the Cold War of the 1970s."

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Putin's biggest ally in the EU, urged the other countries to take into account Russia's concerns and its recent positive moves toward the West. But he also shot down Putin's proposal for corridors, saying that although they might work for rail or air traffic, they wouldn't be feasible for cars.

The Baltic council consists of Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Russia and Sweden, and the European Commission.

Also in News

From the Web