Border controls hit isolated Kaliningrad

February 28, 2003

Lithuania's preparations for accession to the European Union are creating difficulties for students in Russia's far-western Kaliningrad exclave.

New rules covering transit between Kaliningrad and the rest of Russia, introduced this month, are affecting the Kaliningrad campus of the St Petersburg Agrarian University. Academics say student numbers have fallen, and the winter semester has been disrupted.

The campus is taught partly by lecturers from the main body of the university in St Petersburg. Under the new rules, they must show identity documents to enter Lithuania. Although Russian internal passports are supposed to be acceptable, would-be travellers have been turned back in the past two weeks by Lithuanian customs for irregularities such as not having Soviet ID endorsed to identify them as Russian. From July 1, special transit documents will be necessary.

The campus caters mainly for the first three years of the five-year course.

Fourth and fifth-year students have in the past finished their courses in St Petersburg. Students fear that this will now be impossible. Many students are considering transferring to another subject at a local private, fee-paying college or quitting their studies.

As multiple-trip transit documents cost €5 (£3.37), and a one-off return trip visa is free, it could be argued that the problems facing the university are more psychological than financial. For many Russians, the idea of being cut off from a part of their country and unable to travel freely across what was Soviet territory is hard to take.

Students may find it easier in future to take a longer route through Poland, where Russia has concessions for students under the EU border controls.

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