Kaliningrad: No Easy Answers

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Kaliningrad: No Easy Answers

Russia and the EU are sharpening their rhetoric
ahead of a meeting that is supposed to decide what is to be done on
the questions of Kaliningrad. Regardless of the outcome, the
complexity of the exclave’s past and present will continue to
bedevil the region.

The Kaliningrad region compels questions that
neither Russia nor the European Union is ready to answer. But ready
or not, the two are under pressure to provide answers on the fate
of Kaliningrad’s Russian citizens who, by all indications, will be
living firmly in the midst of EU territory by 2004. And the issues
are only becoming thornier as the 11 November EU-Russia summit in
Copenhagen approaches.

Russian territory located outside of Russia’s
contiguous borders, Kaliningrad’s unique geographic status
stretches both the physical dimensions and conceptual cohesion of
the European Union and Russia. When neighboring Lithuania and
Poland become EU members, Kaliningrad’s 15,100 square kilometers
will become a Russian exclave in “Schengenland.”

The most immediate problem for the territory
will be the impact of the border controls, visa regime, and customs
agreements that new EU members must enact under the Schengen
Agreement. Currently free of visa requirements, Kaliningraders
would need Schengen visas for overland transit across Lithuania and
Poland in the expanded EU. In addition to isolating with a paper
wall the 900,000 Kaliningrad residents from their own country of
citizenship, restrictions on the movement of goods and people would
damage Kaliningrad’s already weak economy.

Small-scale cross-border smuggling and legal
trade prop up the economy. Kaliningrad citizens can now travel
visa-free to neighboring states and import goods duty-free for
subsequent resale in Russia. Strict border restrictions would
potentially substitute a cordon sanitaire for active solutions to
the region’s problems.

In mid-September, the European Commission
proposed so-called Facilitated Transit Documents (FTDs) to enable
Russians to travel between Kaliningrad and mainland Russia via
Lithuania. Although initially promising, this compromise withered
at a 15 October debate between Polish, Lithuanian, and Russian
parliamentary leaders, moderated by the president of the European
Parliament, Pat Cox. The Russian side backed away from any
situation “where the question of passage of Russian citizens from
one part of their country to another is decided by foreign
governments or foreign bureaucrats,” reflecting the earlier
statement by Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov that the FTDs
were “visas in disguise.”

Cox referred to the “frank exchange of views” at
the debate: Poland reasserted that it will demand official visas
from Russian travelers, and Lithuania, fearing for its own
admittance to the Schengen Agreement, called for the FTDs to be
valid throughout EU space–an impossible proposition. Sergei
Mironov, the speaker of Russia’s Federation Council, announced that
Russian President Vladimir Putin would not boycott the November
EU-Russia summit. This should not be mistaken for progress.

Little has changed since July, when Russian and
EU officials met in Brussels to discuss the question of
Kaliningrad’s status in an expanded European Union. Following the
summit, Dmitri Rogozin, Putin’s special envoy on Kaliningrad,
stated in an interview published in Nezavisimaya gazeta that Russia
views the oblast as a “litmus test” of how far Russia can go in
exercising control over “its own territory.”

An EU diplomat speaking with RFE/RL Newsline
following the summit meanwhile asserted, “The EU, and the EU only,
decides what takes place on its territory [which will, after
enlargement, extend to Poland and Lithuania].”

Inflammatory language likewise erupted from
meetings between Russian and European diplomats in Moscow in May,
and in Seville in June. The Europeans were accused of erecting a
“blue curtain” across Russian territory, isolating Kaliningrad like
West Berlin during the Cold War.

“We will never agree to the division of Russia’s
sovereignty,” Putin said in June.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Ivan Ivanov
identified what Moscow sees as the four main problems of the
Kaliningrad territory at a March meeting with European Commission
officials and Polish and Lithuanian government leaders: visas,
transit, energy, and fish. Ivanov said that agreements with
neighboring countries over fishery quotas address the fish issue;
energy supply will be guaranteed by construction of a
power-generating station in Kaliningrad as part of a Russian
federal program in 2005.

Transit is a more difficult question, however,
as Poland and Lithuania may impose any transit tariffs
independently. And visa questions are continuously thorny.

But Kaliningrad is not only the sum of visas,
train tracks, electrical lines, and fish, and the prevailing,
shared conceptions of Kaliningrad’s space also shape the outcomes
of EU-Russia negotiations on the region. From the EU’s vantage,
Kaliningrad either exists effectively outside of the union,
presenting just another external border, accommodated by existing
EU programs and agreements, or Kaliningrad is a singular case that
requires flexible EU policy responses.

By asserting the singularity of Kaliningrad and
attempting to force unique EU accommodations, however, the Kremlin
places the territory in the conflicted realm of Russian
center-periphery relations, and the Putin administration in
particular discourages regional autonomy.

The outcome for Kaliningrad therefore depends on
two propositions that must be answered by both the European Union
and Russia: isolate or integrate.


When a Kremlin official rides a sealed train
into Kaliningrad, where exactly is the bureaucrat going? The
Kremlin has conceptualized Kaliningrad variously, and to different
lasting legacy and effect: Cold War military fortress; post-Soviet
peripheral region of ambiguous historical possession, subject to
secessionist tendencies or annexation; and free-trade zone from
globalization’s handbook.

In the Soviet era, the Kaliningrad Oblast was
highly militarized and served as the headquarters of the Baltic Sea
Fleet and the 11th Guard Army and the forward point against NATO
forces in West Germany and the Baltic Straits. A military fortress
closed to foreigners, Kaliningrad reflected security concerns based
on an East-West dichotomy and a statist version of conflict whose
urgency has diminished following the Cold War.

Following the Soviet Union’s 1991 demise, Russia
sharply reduced its troops and opened the territory to foreign
visitors. The 11th Army was dissolved in 1997, and the Kaliningrad
military district was subsumed into the Leningrad district. Once
numbering 100,000, military personnel now amount to 30,000.

Assertions of Kaliningrad’s strategic
significance–or threat–on the military chessboard of Europe
persisted through the 1990s nonetheless. The actual exigency of
these claims is increasingly difficult to extract from the
retrogradation of Russian security interests, nervous noise from
neighboring states, and Western alarmism.

In January 2001, the Washington Times announced
that Russia planned to transfer nuclear weapons to Kaliningrad–a
move denied by the Kremlin and never verified as fact. But Russia’s
prerogative for assertiveness persists: In March, Russian Foreign
Minister Igor Ivanov stated that Russia had no plans to reduce its
military presence in Kaliningrad. “We will always keep as many
troops as we need here for our own security. … It is unacceptable
if a good thing [EU membership] for one group becomes a source of
trouble for another.”

In the early 1990s, meanwhile, par ties in
states neighboring Kaliningrad made competing claims on the
territory. Groups in Lithuania and Poland called for the annexation
of Karaliaucius and Krolewiec, respectively, and the
“re-Germanization” of Koenigsberg was likewise proposed. National
governments disavowed any such claims, but the Kremlin perceived
threats to Russia’s cohesion everywhere at the time: Chechen
separatism; the supposed Chinese annexation of areas in the Russian
Far East; migration of ethnic Kazakhs to the southern Urals area;
ethnic Armenians moving to the North Caucasus (the Krasnodarsk
region); and, broadly, politically emboldened and restive Russian
Federation regions.

The expansion of NATO and the EU, however,
predicated in part by new members’ resolution of outstanding border
disputes, in fact cemented the Baltic states’ borders, minimizing
Russian anxiety over competing claims to post-Soviet peripheral
territory in the Baltic region.

The prospect of Kaliningrad gaining too much
autonomy–if not by secessionist tendencies or annexation, then by
economic integration–continues to trouble the Kremlin, however.
The deputy presidential envoy to Kaliningrad Oblast, Andrei
Stepanov, a Putin associate, announced in September 2001 that his
main task would be enforcement of the transfer of control of the
Kaliningrad “special economic zone” (SEZ) from oblast to
presidential administration. Even if unclaimed by other states, the
Kremlin is concerned that Kaliningrad will drift too far from
central authority.


First military enclave and then security risk in
quick succession, Kaliningrad assumed the “special economic zone”
role in 1996 after the Duma passed a law designating it as such.
Conceptually, this free-trade zone–“the Hong Kong of the Baltic
region”–is inimical to both central military command and to
heavy-handed checks on regional autonomy.

As an enticement for foreign and Russian
companies to build assembly lines directed to the Russian market,
or to invest in export-oriented production, however, the SEZ has
not been a success. Auditors from the Russian Audit Chamber
announced in September 2001 that five years after initiating the
SEZ, the Kremlin’s goal of turning Kaliningrad from a recipient
into a donor region is far from a reality.

According to analysts, the Kremlin has failed to
provide proper incentives, and the local administration has
mismanaged existing assets, discouraging other investors. An
inadequate legal system, lack of investor protection, weak property
rights legislation, and an anti-business tax environment bedevil
the SEZ in particular. A positive trade balance of $37.4 million in
1992 was converted to a deficit of $828.1 million by 1997.

In a 2000 article in the Lithuanian Foreign
Policy Review, Vladimir Nikitin, chairman of the Kaliningrad Oblast
Duma, stated that the purchasing capacity of Kaliningraders is one
of the lowest in the entire Russian Federation, with average wages
for the period of 1996-2000 falling to $32 per month.

A 2000 Copenhagen Peace Research Institute
working paper depicts the problem even more dramatically. At the
end of 1999, Kaliningrad’s cumulative foreign direct investment
(FDI) during the decade was approximately $67 million. That figure
can be broken down into per capita comparisons as follows:
Kaliningrad, $70 (1999); Novgorod, $128 (1997); Russia, $63 (1998);
Lithuania, $563 (1999); Poland, $260 (1998); Hungary, $1,667

While it may not have brought a flood of foreign
investors, the opening of borders brought an abundance of negative
factors to Kaliningrad. The territory has one of Europe’s highest
rates of HIV infection; high rates of tuberculosis and diphtheria
have also been recorded. And according to one 2001 EU report,
“illegal activities such as trafficking of drugs, cars, amber, and
human beings provide up to half of the enclave’s wealth.”


In opening Kaliningrad’s borders with Lithuania and Poland
and experimenting with degrees of free-trade promotion, the Kremlin
departed from conceiving Kaliningrad strictly as a military
outpost. Yet in failing to promote economic prosperity or bring
foreign investment via established free-trade zones, the local and
federal governments have not established a new role for the

On a rhetorical level–encompassing Kremlin conceptions,
shared priorities, and the prevailing discourse on
Kaliningrad–Russian politicians and policy-makers have largely
rejected Cold War appraisals of Kaliningrad in favor of prospects
for trade and investment. Yet on a policy-making level, where
decisions regarding Kaliningrad’s future are implemented, Russian
politicians and policy-makers have failed to initiate or establish
a clear path for the region.

Prime Minister Kasyanov warned in March that it is key that
Kaliningrad not be turned into “a European dead-end zone.” This
prohibition dominates Russian official statements on Kaliningrad’s
future status. There are few policy prescriptions or proposals,
however, aside from statements that the 30-day visa-free travel
that Kaliningraders enjoy in traveling to Lithuania and Poland
should continue, and that a special arrangement for Kaliningrad
should emerge in EU expansion.

The European Union’s public position has been unequivocal:
European Commissioner for External Affairs Chris Patten stated in
March that the EU “cannot override its basic rules, including the
so-called ‘Schengen’ regulations imposing strict border controls on
non-members of the EU.”

To the extent that the European Union seeks to maintain a
uniform internal space via the European Monetary Union, Schengen
Agreement, and customs union, the admission of Kaliningrad does
disrupt the EU area. European Commission officials assert that
Kaliningrad can be accommodated within the EU Partnership and
Cooperation Agreement with Russia. Although Patten welcomes Russia
into partnership with the EU via the Northern Dimension Initiative,
he is unwilling to adjust to Russian demands about visa and transit
issues once the European Union expands around Kaliningrad: Indeed,
External Affairs may be the wrong EU arm for the job.

Kaliningrad will be an internal matter for the European
Union, regardless of EU policy sections, once Lithuania and Poland
become members. Moreover, common EU external policy demands the
increasing integration of EU space toward shared foreign policy and
defense agendas. The push to integrate EU space more deeply in
order to project force akin to a nation-state may disturb
security-minded Russian politicians, who will perceive EU expansion
as a threat.


Russia and the European Union address each other
as subjects in dialogue over EU enlargement, but the status of each
participant in the dialogue is ambiguous. The 1999 EU Common
Strategy for Russia speaks of Russia’s “integration into a common
European economic and social space,” while Russia’s 1999 Strategy
for the Development of Relations with the European Union
anticipates the “construction of a Europe without dividing

The European Union is willing to consider
special arrangements for Kaliningrad if Russia grants the territory
more autonomy; Russia must therefore reduce its sovereignty over
the territory and–at least in view–behave less like a
nation-state. Yet as the European Union moves to a common front in
external affairs and becomes more like a nation-state (relatively
speaking), it is less willing to accommodate Kaliningrad, or any
aberration in uniform EU space.

Russia’s conception of Kaliningrad as “fortress”
implies geopolitical hard-security issues; the view of Kaliningrad
as subject to annexation or secession implies creeping
soft-security dangers; and the SEZ “free-trade zone” signifies
global openness to capital. Each step marks the diminishing role of
territoriality. Yet even as the sense of territory diminishes, the
persistence of geography affects Kaliningrad’s status: is the area
inside or outside the European Union? The distinction is not merely
semantic for Kaliningraders, who wish to maintain their
cross-border ties to neighboring states.

For citizens in the overall Baltic region, the
numerous social and ecological problems of Kaliningrad require
action appropriate for problems that are considered to be inside
the European Union proper.

If considered as outside of the European Union,
Kaliningrad is eligible only for TACIS funds, and not PHARE. There
is considerably less of the former. If Kaliningrad is effectively
“inside” the European Union, then Kremlin and EU officials should
be able to achieve at minimum a continuation of the current visa
regime for Kaliningraders traveling to Lithuania and Poland. To
integrate Kaliningrad into neighboring EU countries in a broader
sense, the endeavor requires consideration under EU “community
matters” or “intergovernmental cooperation” pillars, not “external

For the European Union, isolation indicates the
lack of political will to intervene beyond standard aid to non-EU
or pre-accession states as Kaliningrad falls behind neighboring
states in standard of living, and as disease, crime, and general
social ills increase–these are internal Russian problems, to be
contained by a “hard” border around Kaliningrad.

In conjunction, Russia may reject direct foreign
aid and a perceived loss of sovereignty over Kaliningrad, in effect
dooming the region to isolation from Russia and EU neighbors alike
and turning Kaliningrad into a semi-hermitic experiment in social
decay. Or Russia may seek foreign direct assistance that is not
forthcoming, perhaps because EU officials would be unwilling to
expand from existing technical assistance programs, designed
without specific concern for Kaliningrad’s “island” status. The
European Union would find spending taxpayers’ money on Russia, a
country far from consolidating a successful democracy or market
economy, politically odious. The last outcome would likely be a
short-term development, however, as it would arise when
Kaliningrad’s decay becomes so dire as to compel the Kremlin to
request EU aid.


European Union integration may occur on two
tiers: standard responses to non-EU territories, or recognition of
Kaliningrad’s special status as de facto EU territory and crafting
special programs in response. The standard EU response involves
TACIS programs, with perhaps the potential to expand into
cross-border interregional development programs (INTERREG) or
projects similar to the Environmental Centre for Administration and
Technology (ECAT) in Kaliningrad. The ECATs were established with
TACIS and PHARE funds in Riga, St. Petersburg, and Kaunas as
partnerships between local government, environmental experts, and
outside consultants.

The programs have reached various stages of
completion but were based notably on a regional scheme of targeting
the Baltic Sea area, linking the European Union, EU applicant
countries, and Russia in cross-border cooperation. The ECAT
programs, however, do not address the long-term problems of
Kaliningrad systematically: They are NGO-level responses to
problems that require intergovernmental action.

Expanded EU responses could address Kaliningrad
as essentially a member of the European Union. The scenario of
mutual efforts to integrate Kaliningrad with the European Union is
the optimal outcome in terms of the long-term health of Kaliningrad
and the surrounding Baltic region’s population and regional
stability. Although the European Union would have to recognize that
Kaliningrad could not be treated exactly as a state, EU officials
could design compensatory programs so that Kaliningrad is not left
behind its EU neighbors as they receive resource and fin ancial
transfers from the union. By easing cross-border disparities and by
directly targeting crime, communicable disease, and environmental
degradation, the European Union could assist in developing
Kaliningrad’s potential as a seaport, transportation hub, and
financial gateway for the regional economy.

In their execution, if not in conception,
however, the different EU integration levels depend on Russian
receptivity. Moscow would have to recognize Kaliningrad’s special
status as a targeted recipient of EU aid and adopt a more “fuzzy”
conception of the territory’s standing. Furthermore, Moscow would
have to resolve conflicts in the local administration and in SEZ
legislation. The Russian government has drafted a new 2002 federal
development program for the Kaliningrad region in which SEZ
legislation is not mentioned. This may be because the Duma plans on
eliminating special SEZ privileges for the region–the outcomes are
currently unclear. However, the uncertainty surrounding SEZ
legislation and the local administration discourage investment and
hamper regional integration initiatives.

Christoph Bertram, director of the Stiftung
Wissenschaft und Politik, a Berlin-based think tank, asserts that
the European Union has developed one foreign policy tool only, the
offer of enlargement. “It has proved a really excellent way of
persuading countries to behave in the ways that you want,” he
states in Pami Aalto’s paper, “Structural Geopolitics in Europe,”
from a 2001 COPRI paper. “But sooner or later the EU has to be able
to draw a line and work out new forms to relationships with
countries that are not going to join the union.”

The Kaliningrad territory forces the issue of
the European Union’s relations to non-EU countries, just as it
compels the Kremlin to consider Russia’s role as the EU border
moves east. An entirely new concept of the North may emerge in
Russia-EU relations as a guiding notion to defy the historical
dichotomy of East-West and open a path between Kaliningrad’s deep
integration and harmful isolation. Whether Russian and EU
leadership are up to the task or not, Kaliningrad will force the

Brian Vitunic is a recent graduate of Columbia
University’s School of International and Public Affairs, and the
Harriman Institute. He currently resides in Dushanbe,

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