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10th Dec 2016

EU to ease travel for residents of Russian enclave

  • People in the Russian enclave currently have to apply for Schengen visas to travel through Poland and Lithuania (Photo: EUobserver)

One million people living in the region of Kaliningrad, a Russian territory sandwiched between Poland, Lithuania and the Baltic Sea, will be able to travel without EU visas in the neighbouring countries, under a proposal by the EU commission unveiled on Friday (29 July).

"The solution that the Commission now proposes will facilitate people-to-people contacts and enhance economic co-operation on both sides of the border, without affecting security," home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said in a press statement.

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Under the proposal, which needs approval of member states and the European Parliament, the entire 15,000 square kilometre enclave will be considered a border zone.

This will allow neighbouring Poland and Lithuania to issue special permits for the roughly 1 million Kaliningrad inhabitants, enabling them to travel across the border without going through the costly and cumbersome procedure of applying for a Schengen visa, as it is currently the case.

The measure would only apply within a distance of 30km or, in special cases, up to 50km from the Russian border.

"Their lives would be facilitated very much, because often they have to move across the border for a few hours or a limited number of days," Malmstrom's spokesman explained during a press conference.

Annexed from Germany in 1945, Kaliningrad (then Konigsberg) was a closed military zone throughout the Soviet period and still hosts the Russian Baltic fleet and in several military bases.

In 2008, Moscow threatened to deploy missiles there in reaction to the news that Poland would be hosting anti-ballistic missiles under a US plan.

The EU has already made similar border arrangements with Ukraine and Moldova, and is looking at having something in place with Belarus as well, provided the regime changes course on its political prisoners.

Russia may also get a similar border agreement with Norway, a non-EU country which is part of the Schengen area.

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