EU-funded programme allowing Russian citizens to cross Lithuania on their way to the Kaliningrad exclave is facing budget cuts. This could jeopordise the bloc's security, according to the Lithuanian foreign minister.
The programme, agreed in the run-up to Lithuania's accession to the EU, allow Russian citizens travelling by rail between mainland Russian and the Kaliningrad exclave to cross Lithuania under a simplified procedure. They are issued with transit documents by Lithuanian consular officials onboard the trains.
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Lithuania is seeking 215 million euros in EU funding for the programme in the bloc's 2021-2027 budget. European Council President Charles Michel has proposed 139 million euros.
Since 2005, around a thousand Russians a day "have benefited from the EU–Russia special transit scheme, which is fully implemented by Lithuania," the country's foreign minister, Linas Linkevičius, said in a statement.
"It is a security issue and if it remains underfunded as it is now, it may jeopardise EU security," he said.
The cuts could lead to the scheme being in operation during only nine-months of the year, according to Radio Free Europe, which could lead to legal challenges since the transit is enshrined in EU treaties.
Any potential disruptions could also increase tensions between Russia and the EU, Lithuanian MEP Andrius Kubilius told RFE/RL.
"The current [...] proposal by the EC [...] could contribute to additional geopolitical tensions with Russia by disrupting" its continuation, he said. "We urge both the Council and Commission not to abandon their promise to ordinary Russian people."
EU leaders began talks on the bloc's new budget on Thursday evening.
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda said before the talks that he would demand adequate funding for the Kaliningrad transit programme, but added that Lithuania would act responsibly.
When asked by BNS if Lithuania would consider stopping the transit at a certain point if it does not receive the necessary funding, the president said: "We are a responsible member of the EU and [we] implement our obligations responsibly, but at the same time, we demand adequate financing of these functions."
"Lithuania is not rich enough to fund the common needs of the EU at its own expense," he added.