When the destinies of Europe were mapped out at the conferences in Teheran, Yalta and Potsdam few could have envisaged a united Europe within the space of sixty years. Clear demarcated spheres of influence took shape during these conference and “from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain descended across the Continent”. The Soviet sphere of influence shifted west as the countries of Eastern and Central Europe lost territory and new borders were drawn.
One of the greatest and most controversial border changes was the annexation of the province of East Prussia by Poland and the Soviet Union. The northern section went to the Soviet Union with a far-northern slice of land known as the ‘Memel Territory’ going to the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic, the rest going to the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. The southern section went to Poland. The problems that this created were unseen by many but the Soviet leaders had their motives for the creation of a Russian exclave sandwiched in between Poland and Lithuania.
By all accounts, Stalin was intent on creating a buffer zone between the Baltic States and Poland in order to keep these newly acquired territories as far away from ‘the West’ as possible. He also believed that Königsberg, Kaliningrad as it was now renamed, was an invaluable strategic point (and port) for the Soviet Empire. To this day the Kaliningrad Oblast (affectionately known as Jantarny Kraj due to its rich deposits of amber) is Russia’s foot in the western door placing a wedge between the EU member states of Lithuania and Poland.
During Boris Yeltsin’s reign, there was talk of the Kaliningrad Oblast being sold off to Poland. In fact, rumours abounded that Yeltsin himself had put this idea to the Polish government but the Poles were wary that this post-Soviet albatross would have a negative effect on an already frail economy. This mirrors a similar decision made by the Lithuanian SSR when the idea was mooted by Moscow high command for the Lithuanians to take formal control of Kaliningrad and the surrounding area. With both Poland and Lithuania within the EU and enjoying economic growth, now would be a good time for the EU to wash its hands of the ‘Russian exclave problem’. Rumoured plans are afoot for the EU to formally apply for jurisdiction of the area.
Divide and Conquer
The plan would be for the territory to be administered directly by Brussels (as Russia would never submit to either Poland or Lithuania). In return Russia would obtain vital concessions from the EU. The area would become known as the EU Free Port of Kaliningrad (the Russians stipulating no change of name). The initial plan would be to create an EU Hong Kong free trade area. However, in time the Lithuanians and Poles would gain control of the area with the territory being swallowed up by each state.
Dream or Nightmare?
The idea of wrestling Kaliningrad away from Russia would bring a communal sigh of relief from many EU negotiators, decision makers and especially the future EU Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Kaliningrad is a perpetual administrative nightmare for EU politicians. Should the residents of this territory be afforded transit visas or must they use regular visas? Should the denizens of Kaliningrad be seen as exterritorial Russians with limited rights within EU territory or simply Russians? The simplest answer to many of these problems would be to hand the territory over to Poland and Lithuania. Whether this happens or not is another problem.