Parliamentary Assembly session : 23 – 27 September 2002 

Kaliningrad is a humanitarian problem

Dimitri Rogozin, head of the Russian parliamentary delegation, is calling for there to be a train across Lithuania to enable the residents of Kaliningrad to travel to the rest of Russia.

Interview

Question: Dimitri Rogozin, you are the head of the Russian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. You are also the special representative of the President of the Russian Federation for the Kaliningrad region. What do you think about the report on Kaliningrad presented by the Political Affairs Committee?

Dimitri Rogozin: Very often in Strasbourg, the resolutions which are critical of Russia are very substantive and well-reasoned. On the other hand, the resolutions which are favourable to Russia are often vague and unspecific. This is also the case of the resolution on Kaliningrad. The objectivity of the rapporteur, Ms Ragnarsdottir, is beyond reproach. Nevertheless, as the seasoned diplomat she is, she is trying to ensure that the resolution can be adopted. What concerns us about this resolution is the fact that there is nothing concrete about the legal and material aspects of providing, with strengthened migration controls, the transit trains which could link the Kaliningrad region to the rest of the Russian Federation.

Question: In her report, Ms Ragnarsdottir refers to the historical precedent of Berlin which was linked by road or rail corridors. Do you think that this could be a model for Kaliningrad?

Dimitri Rogozin: We would prefer a more modern and more reliable form of co-operation rather than a complex compromise inherited from the time of the Cold War based more on mistrust than trust. Extra-territorial corridors could be a solution. They exist already throughout the world and here in Europe without any adverse reaction. For example, when you arrive in Geneva by plane, you can enter France by using such a corridor without having to travel via Switzerland. We would prefer a more flexible solution such as an international train crossing but not stopping in Lithuania. But in this regard the experts from the European Commission are asking us questions which could only be described as absurd – such as the speed of the train. They want a train which travels fast enough but they do not tell us the speed at which they would like it to travel. For them, a train travelling at 60 or 70 kmh would enable an illegal immigrant to jump out of the window. Personally, I think there are only three people in the world who could manage this – James Bond, Batman and Terminator! The Lithuanian rail network is not that good and in some places the train would have to slow down. Rather than the approach taken so far, it would be better to focus on tackling technical problems like those. At present, there is such a train which crosses Lithuania and stops twice, at Vilnius and Kaunas. Last year, only 18 people took advantage of that and left the train, whereas it carried some 960,000 passengers. The figure is derisory. Furthermore, if we were to sign a readmission treaty with Lithuania, we could very easily readmit these potential emigrants into Russia.

Question: What more might you have expected from the Council of Europe?

Dimitri Rogozin: First of all, we would like to hear the Council of Europe acknowledge that there is a real humanitarian problem and that the citizens of my country have the right to be able to move about freely throughout Russian territory. We would also like the Council of Europe to confirm that such a train is entirely in conformity with the Schengen agreements. Such a reference is, moreover, to be found in a European Commission document. Lastly, we would like the Council to help us with visas. We accept the idea that there have to be visas, but we feel they should only apply to people travelling via means of transport where checks are difficult, such as cars. Trains are a reliable means of transport and are in line with the Russian Federation’s clear position on guaranteeing its citizens freedom of movement. The Council of Europe should admit that our position is well founded. In this case, the Russian Federation would ratify not only the treaty on the border limits with Lithuania, but also a treaty on readmission and the fight against illegal migration.