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CENTRE FOR BORDER STUDIES


All colleagues are warmly invited to the first in a series of inter-disciplinary seminars on a theme of ‘Borders’.


Date: Monday 17 November

Venue: D127 University of Glamorgan

Time: 5pm

Title: ‘Why is Kaliningrad Russian’


Dr Paul Holtom (Centre for Border Studies, University of Glamorgan)
In attempting to answer the question ‘Why is Kaliningrad Russian?’, this paper will begin by briefly considering the British war-time decision to remove East Prussia from the map of Europe, and speculate upon the motivations behind Stalin’s insistence that the northernmost part of this province should be transferred to the Soviet Union. One particularly important point will be raised – yet left unanswered – and that is why was this territory made a constituent part of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic and not, as would seem more logical in a geographical sense, made part of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic? The rest of the paper will concern itself with the implications of Soviet and Russian ownership of Kaliningrad. Here newly revealed opinions from Kaliningrad’s first Soviet settlers will be introduced, before considering the problems that Kaliningrad was expected to pose for peace and stability in post-Cold War Europe. After speculating upon the lack of historically justified territorial claims on Kaliningrad from the German Lithuanian and Polish states, I will conclude by raising a number of areas for further research relating to the territory’s German past and Russian present and questions relating to ‘identities’ of the region’s inhabitants.


Why is Kaliningrad Russian?
The Kaliningrad region of the Russian Federation (which I will refer to throughout the rest of this presentation as Kaliningrad). Today, Kaliningrad is one of the 89 constituent parts, or subjects, of the Russian Federation. It is one of the smallest Russian administrative regions with a recorded population of just over 950,000, which is not very evenly spread over a territory measuring 15,000km². However, despite its size, it has been argued that the fate of this small Russian region is a key factor in European peace and stability. Indeed, Kaliningrad was expected to contribute, or at least be one of the indicators, for the future direction of Post-Cold War Europe – towards conflict or co-operation.
As a result of the independence of Lithuania and collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Kaliningrad became separated from its new homeland – the Russian Federation. Whereas travelling by land between Kaliningrad and Moscow had previously been an activity conducted in one state – without crossing any international state borders – one now has to cross the borders of at least two of the following states when travelling by land – Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. When glancing at a map then, the ‘Kaliningrad problem’ appears remarkably similar to the situation that faced Weimar Germany with regard to East Prussia, a territory separated from the rest of Germany by the reappearance of Poland. The comparison has a certain intuitive appeal as the two exclaves/detached regions - East Prussia and Kaliningrad - share the same spatial co-ordinates in the south-eastern corner of the Baltic Sea. And it also provides one with research questions such as: Is this south-eastern corner of the Baltic Sea to serve as a ‘hot-spot’ for European security in the twenty-first century as it had under German ‘ownership’ in the twentieth? Can Kaliningrad avoid the infamy of its predecessor, and demonstrate that detached regions in the twenty-first century could serve as sources of co-operation rather than conflict?
Of course, Kaliningrad is not only a rather unusual case in Russia because of the fact that it is ‘detached’ from its homeland, but also because it is a territory with a past that is very difficult to label Russian. While Germans, Lithuanians and even Poles can claim that this territory and its former inhabitants played a role in the development of their respective national histories (see Janušauskas 2001), this claim is more difficult to make for Russian identity constructors. Yet, one cannot say that the Soviets did not try to erase such memories. Not only was the city of Königsberg and the northernmost part of East Prussia renamed Kaliningrad city and region in July 1946 –after the recently deceased Soviet president Mikhail Kalinin – but almost all of the street names and towns in the region were also changed.1377 For Ingmar Oldberg, these name changes were a “crucial measure in changing the character of the region” (Oldberg 2000, 72), and for Romuald Misiunas and Rein Taagepera they represented an “effort to eradicate traces of the area’s past and replace them with a Russian veneer” (Misiunas and Taagepera 1993, 338). To a considerable degree efforts to remove traces of the German past had been assisted by the destruction of an estimated 90% of the buildings of Königsberg in World War II, the flight of the German population and their ‘repatriation’. The attempt to create a tabla rasa for the construction of a new ‘socialist utopia’ makes Kaliningrad an extremely interesting case for discussions on identity, space and place, and debates on contestable territories in the post-cold war period.
In attempting to answer the question ‘Why is Kaliningrad Russian?’, this paper will begin by briefly considering the British war-time decisions to remove East Prussia from the map of Europe, and speculate upon the motivations behind Stalin’s insistence that the northernmost part of this province should be transferred to the Soviet Union. One particularly important point will be raised – yet left unanswered – and that is: why was this territory made a constituent part of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic and not, as would seem more logical in a geographical sense, made part of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic? The rest of the paper will concern itself with the implications of Soviet and Russian ownership of Kaliningrad. Here newly revealed opinions from Kaliningrad’s first Soviet settlers will be introduced, before considering the problems that Kaliningrad was expected to pose for peace and stability in post-Cold war Europe. After speculating upon the lack of historically justified territorial claims on Kaliningrad from the German, Lithuanian and Polish states, I will conclude by raising a number of areas for further research relating to the territory’s German past and Russian present and questions relating to the ‘identities’ of the region’s inhabitants.
Why Remove East Prussia from the Map of Europe?
The decision to remove East Prussia from the map of Europe was a key British aim in World War II (Duffy 2000, 299). The British government justified changing the area’s status on the grounds that the area had been a source of instability and a threat to peace since the days of the Teutonic Knights, and as the Nazis had demonstrated, continued to play a role in Germany’s drang nach osten (drive to the East). This anti-East Prussian mood was also reflected in British war-time studies (for example, see Machray 1943).
Table 1: From East Prussia to Kaliningrad


Date

Event

28 June 1919

The Treaty of Versailles: East Prussia becomes an exclave. The Memel/Klaipeda District, is placed under an international protectorate, under French administration from Feb. 1920.

1923 – 24

Lithuanian irregulars seize the Memel/Klaipeda District, and gain international support for creating an autonomous Lithuanian region.

22 Mar. 1939

In response to a German ultimatum, Lithuania hands the Memel/Klaipeda District back to Germany.

Nov.-Dec. 1939

The Polish government-in-exile (London) presses Britain for the inclusion of East Prussia into a restored post-war Poland.

16 Dec. 1941

Stalin tells British Foreign Minister Eden that the northern part of East Prussia should be incorporated into the Lithuanian SSR of the USSR.

15 Mar. 1943

US President Roosevelt, Secretary of State Hopkins and Eden decided that the whole of East Prussia would be part of a post-war Polish state. Eden states that the USSR agrees to this state of affairs.

16 Mar. 1943

The Soviet ambassador to the US, Litvinov, states that the USSR accepts the incorporation of East Prussia into Poland, if Poland will respect Soviet ‘territorial rights’ on1939 annexations.

28 Nov.–1 Dec. 1943

The Tehran Conference: a provisional Polish border is outlined, including the whole of East Prussia. However, Stalin again announces that the Kцnigsberg area should be incorporated into the USSR.

22 Jan. 1944

The British war cabinet finds no grounds “on which decisive objections could be raised to the Russian absorption of Kцnigsberg”.

4 Feb. 1944

Stalin tells Churchill that Kцnigsberg is the USSR’s ‘minimum claim’ for accepting the ‘Curzon Line’ as the new Soviet-Polish border.

6 Feb. 1944

The British authorities tell the Polish government-in-exile that the Kцnigsberg area is to be transferred to the USSR at the end of the war.

12 Jun. 1944

Roosevelt tells the visiting Polish head-of-state-in-exile Mikoіajczyk that Stalin’s claim on Kцnigsberg should not be considered ‘final’.

3 Aug. 1944

The Polish minutes of Mikoіajczyk’s meeting with Stalin record that the transfer of Krуlewiec (Kцnigsberg) to the USSR is accepted.

1 Feb. 1945

The Malta Conference (Britain and the US): agrees upon the division of East Prussia between Poland and the USSR.

4-11 Feb. 1945

The Yalta Conference: Kцnigsberg is not mentioned in the Yalta Communiquй, but a solution was agreed upon.

17 Jun. 1945

The British Foreign Office noted that a provisional Soviet-Polish frontier already existed.

17 Jul.-2 Aug. 1945

The Potsdam Conference: neither Britain nor the US objected to the inclusion of the Kцnigsberg area in the USSR – subject to a peace conference. The Special Military District Kцnigsberg is established.

7 Apr. 1946

The Königsberg Oblast is founded and becomes a new subject of the Russian Socialist Federal Soviet Republic.

4 Jun. 1946

The Oblast is renamed the Kaliningrad Oblast - commemorating the late Soviet President Mikhail Kalinin.

Aug. 1946

The settlement of Kaliningrad begins with a mixture of voluntary and forced resettlement from other parts of the USSR.

Oct. 1947 – May 1951

The forced re-settlement of the German population. Over 100,000 people are expelled from the Oblast.

7 Apr.1948

The Memel/Klaipeda District becomes part of the Lithuanian SSR.

Autumn 1991

The dissolution of the Soviet Union and de facto and de jure recognition of the independence of the Baltic states. The exclave status of the Kaliningrad Oblast is transformed from a domestic matter into a matter of international relations.

Sources: Bьhler (1990); de Zayas (1979); Krickus (2002); Sharp (1977-78).
As this table shows, however, when it came to deciding what to do with East Prussia after the war, the key players had different – and changing – views. The initial British solution to the ‘East Prussian’ question was to award the territory to Poland to assuage security concerns. However, from the beginning of 1944, the British government appeared to have considered the North-eastern part of East Prussia, including the city of Kцnigsberg, to be an acceptable Soviet annexation. Although, in the words of a British Foreign Office report from the time, this took “most of the gilt off the East Prussian gingerbread for Poland” (Qtd. in Sharp 1977-8, 157), and gave the “economically most important section of this province” (Garbuny 1947, 157) to the USSR, the British were prepared to accept Soviet justifications. Of interest here, however, is why did Stalin seek to annex this territory? Five possible factors that could have motivated the Soviet annexation will be discussed in the following section: historical ownership, ethnic claims, economics, security and compensation.
Why did the USSR Annex and Rename East Prussia?
Most western commentators in the Cold War period and in more recent years, perceived the first two motivations – the historical and the ethnic claims - to be very weak. Firstly, in terms of historical ownership the Soviet claim would have rested solely on the Russian occupation of Kцnigsberg during the Seven Years War (1757-62). Secondly, the initial Soviet claims on East Prussia were based on the territory’s Lithuanian past (Misiunas and Taagepera 1993, 337; Sharp 1977-8, 156).1378 This basis was not pressed by Stalin at further meetings between the allies either because it was not necessary, or simply not convincing. Yet, in the second edition of the Great Soviet Encyclopaedia, published in 1953, it was proclaimed that East Prussia had been an “ancient land of the Baltic Slavs (Pribaltiiskie slavyanie), a group that had never hitherto been heard of” (Misiunas and Taagepera 1993, 339). As Tony Sharp stated in the late 1970s – in one of the few articles to concentrate on the question of the Soviet decision to annex the northern part of East Prussia:
The uniqueness of the Russian annexation must be noted. The Russians neither referred to ‘historical frontiers’, as in the case of most of eastern Poland and Bessarabia, nor did they refer to ethnic principles, as in the case of sub-Carpathian Ruthenia and to a lesser extent Galicia, in order to justify their absorption of the Kцnigsberg area. (…) The Russians never attempted historic and/or ethnic rationalisation, because they could not.

(Tony Sharp 1977-8, 161)


It is the third set of motivations – the economic - that Siegfried Garbuny (1947) and Tony Sharp (1977-8) - writing in the Cold War period - perceived to have pushed the Soviet claim. They argue that Soviet designs on Kцnigsberg can be traced back to the Russian quest for an ice-free port in the Baltic Sea. The annexation could be regarded as completing a war aim of World War I, as the annexation of Kцnigsberg and its surrounding area had been one of the primary aims of the Russian attacks on East Prussia in 1914 (Garbuny 1947, 340 and 342; Sharp 1977-8, 162). Kцnigsberg was not only supposed to be ice-free, but it had also played a key role in Russian-west European trade in the late nineteenth century, following the conclusion of a commercial Treaty between the Russian and Prussian Empires (10 February 1894).1379 However, George F. Kennan has stated that Kцnigsberg was not an ice-free port, and also questioned Soviet grounds for receiving the port of Kцnigsberg when it had already ‘annexed’ territories containing the Baltic ports of Liepвja, Rоga, and Klaipлda. Several commentators have supported Kennan’s scepticism concerning Kцnigsberg’s ice-free port, for example, Charles Mee has argued that the powers of Churchill, Stalin and Truman had become such that:
They could not only move borders, create spheres of influence, cause millions of Germans to exist or disappear – they could also melt ice at Kцnigsberg. The mutual fantasy was eventually made into fact in the Soviet Encyclopaedia of 1953, which declared Kцnigsberg ice-free. Kennan drew an obvious conclusion: If anyone thought, after 1945, that he saw ice in the canal of Kцnigsberg, he did not.

(Mee 1975, 159)


While one could not use these arguments to suggest that there was a ‘legitimate Soviet claim’ on Kцnigsberg, it gives some indication of why this area and its port were desired by the USSR at the end of World War II. But then one must surely ask: why did the USSR only limited its claims on German territory to Kцnigsberg, Tilsit and Insterburg in the territory of East Prussia? The answer could be that these cities harboured the most important industrial enterprises in the region.
And so we come to the question of security. Tony Sharp argued that, “in security terms, Stalin argued that annexation would ‘put Russia on the neck of Germany’” (Sharp 1977-8, 162), but for some analysts the idea that this German province constituted a menace to peace was perceived to be more of a Polish than a Russian argument, because if geographic location and German population constituted a military danger then Siegfried Garbuny argued that “any borderland would constitute a menace no matter how far Russia would move her frontier towards Germany” (Garbuny 1947, 343). Yet, most contemporary commentators believe that ‘security’ was a key factor in the acquisition of Kцnigsberg’s port and the surrounding area. For example, one analyst has recently argued that “the annexation of the Kaliningrad (Kцnigsberg) area was mainly a strategic measure, giving a good naval base for the Soviet navy” (Iivonen 1995, 69), while Tony Sharp argued that:
A Greater Russian outpost to the south and west of the former Baltic States and Belorussia (…) appealed to Stalin’s Great Russian chauvinism and provided a justification for annexation based upon internal security grounds.

(Sharp 1977-8, 162)


It is this line of reasoning that could help to explain why the Kцnigsberg/Kaliningrad oblast’ was included into the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (RSFSR) and not the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic (LiSSR). It was arguably seen as providing a means for controlling the south-eastern corner of the Baltic Sea, without having to rely upon the leaders of the Communist Party, security and military organs in the Baltic Republics. One could go further and argue that the military base there not only served as a ‘warning’ or deterrent against Baltic nationalism, but could also have served as a means for keeping an eye on a potential troublemaker just beyond the Soviet borders – Poland – and not just getting closer to Germany.
The final reason for incorporating the territory into the USSR could be that it was seen as being in lieu of ‘compensation’. Stalin argued that the Soviet people “deserved” a “reasonable bite” of German territory after the atrocities and cost of World War II at Potsdam. According to Tony Sharp (1977-8), Churchill apparently accepted this point of view, as he was only interested in ensuring that the territory was no longer a German possession (although the fact that the Red Army occupied the territory could have played a role). Yet, there was a problem with the Soviet annexation of Kцnigsberg. Like the incorporation of the Baltic Republics into the USSR, the acquisition of Kцnigsberg was never formally accepted in international law. Although one could argue that the Potsdam Protocol suggests that Britain and the US would have supported the Soviet claim at a post-war peace conference, this event did not take place. The protocol signalled intent, but was not regarded as giving the USSR title to Kцnigsberg de jure.
Section IV of the Potsdam Declaration on Kцnigsberg, signed by US President Truman, Soviet leader Stalin and British Prime Minister Atlee and announced on 2 August 1945
The [Potsdam] Conference examined a proposal by the Soviet Government that pending the final determination of territorial questions at the peace settlement, the section of the western frontier of the Union of Soviet Republics which is adjacent to the Baltic Sea should pass from a point on the eastern shore of the Bay of Danzig to the east, north of Braunsberg-Goldap, to the meeting point of the frontiers of Lithuania, the Polish Republic and East Prussia.

The Conference has agreed in principle to the proposal of the Soviet Government concerning the ultimate transfer to the Soviet Union of the City of Kцnigsberg and the area adjacent as described above subject to expert examination of the actual frontier.

The President of the United States and the British Prime Minister have declared that they will support the proposal of the Conference at the forthcoming peace settlement.
Potsdam, Helsinki and Borders in the Cold War
The Potsdam Protocol only granted the USSR temporary administration of the territory, pending a peace conference that did not take place. For this reason the area had not been recognised as having been formally relinquished by the German state, nor recognised as de jure incorporated into the USSR or RSFSR during the Cold War (see: Bühler 1990; Krickus 2002; Smith 1992; Whomersley 1993). For Sharon Korman the Soviet war-time annexations, recognised de facto towards the end of World War II in the Potsdam Protocol, are problematic as they can be regarded as annexations without even the “guise” of a Treaty of cession (Korman 1996, 165-78). There was no equivalent to the Versailles Peace Conference and Treaty to legitimate the border changes that took place at the end of World War II. Yet, the brutality of this conflict, and the problems of the inter-war years, laid the foundations for a serious commitment to the stability of a world-system based on territorial division by nation-states. This principle became one of the bases for international stability and peace in post-World War II Europe.

But rather than consider the opinions of various scholars of international law on Kaliningrad’s status, I would now like to consider the opinions of the first Soviet settlers to Kaliningrad. The first wave of Soviet settlers moved to Kaliningrad in the late 1940s and came mainly from regions within the Russian and Belarusian Republics of the USSR,1380 replacing the ‘repatriated’ Germans. In theory, these first settlers could reveal a range of insights into a variety of questions regarding the transformation of the northern part of East Prussia into Kaliningrad. But, according to the Kaliningrad-based researcher Yu.V. Kostyashov, while 300,000 Soviet citizens are recorded as arriving in Kaliningrad between 1948 and 1950, over 100,000 are recorded as leaving in this period (this figure does not include the German population) (Kostyashov 2000, 68). Although one could argue that some of the returnees in this number could have been demobilised soldiers who had been living and working in the area since 1945, it does not seem out of line to assume that a third of the new arrivals left almost as soon as they had arrived. Another Kaliningrad-based researcher, T.A. Proshina, has stated that poor living conditions and disease were probably the primary reasons for this rapid turnabout (Proshina 1998, 17-18), although one of the last Germans to leave the area in the late 1940s has been recorded as stating that:


They [the first volunteer Soviet arrivals] had been sent on their way with magnificent promises; they were to receive 2,000 roubles, a cow, sheep, and a few fowls. They were promised a nice new house. Their disappointment, however, was great, when they found out that they had got to work on collective farms. Many of them sold their cattle, and went back to Russia.

(Qtd. in Schieder 1952, 201-2)


This account from the 1950s can now be compared with accounts from the first Soviet settlers, because in the late Soviet/early post-Soviet period, several historians at Kaliningrad State University conducted an oral history project with Soviet settlers from the first wave who had remained in the region since the late 1940s. Before revealing a few of the opinions gathered in this project, it is perhaps worth noting the problem of getting hold of this research. According to a personal interview, excerpts from 320 interviews conducted for this project had been prepared for publication in Kaliningrad in 1996. In March 1997, however, the publication of the book was blocked by one of Kaliningrad’s vice-governors, who called for ‘substantial revisions’ to 80 accounts. The book’s editor, Yu.V. Kostyashov refused to change the ‘offending’ accounts and the publication of the book was ‘postponed’. Although a German version of the original book was released in 1999, it was not until late 2002 that the detailed results of this research were published in Russian language in St Petersburg.1381 This tale aptly demonstrates the contested nature of memory within the region. This is perhaps understandable for certain politicians and political movements in the post-Soviet period when one considers some of the feelings and thoughts revealed to the researchers involved in this project.
In several of the accounts given by the first wave of settlers who remained in Kaliningrad, and presented in a short article published by Kostyashov in 2000, it was clearly stated that they would not have imagined themselves to still be living in Kaliningrad forty years after their arrival. Many of those interviewed from this first wave stated that they had only initially intended to live “in Germany”, “in Prussia”, “in a German land without Germans” or just “abroad” for a short period (Kostyashov 2000, 72). They then planned to return “home” after enjoying the privileges that they had been granted for constructing Kaliningrad. But of those who stayed far longer than they had initially planned, other remarks are also of interest, in particular the fact that some also mentioned changes in the international environment as leading them to believe that their residence in Kaliningrad would only be temporary. Several interviewees stated that during the Soviet period they believed that Kaliningrad would be transferred to the GDR, the LiSSR or Poland. These feelings were most keenly felt in the period between Stalin’s death to 1956, and after the events in Czechoslovakia in 1968 (Kostyashov 2000, 73). Other commentators have argued that such feelings could possibly be attributed not only to the first settlers, but also to Communist Party leaders in Moscow, and the region too as:
The bulk of construction carried out in Kaliningrad dates from the 1970s or later, when West German Ostpolitik and the Helsinki Treaty added a touch of reassurance to the permanence of the Soviet possession.

(Misiunas and Taagepera 1993, 341)


So, while the First Secretary of the Kaliningrad CPSU Obkom, Nikolai Konovalov, stated in December 1968 that Kaliningrad had been “built anew (…) in a different quality [with] every metre of land touched by the best sons and daughters of our motherland: Russians, Ukrainians, Belorussians, Lithuanians and Latvians” (Qtd. in Misiunas and Taagepera 1993, 339), this opinion was perhaps not shared by all of the region’s inhabitants. In fact, according to one team of analysts, “having found themselves in unusual conditions (natural environment, climate, consumption habits, architecture, household activities, infrastructure, economy management system), the first migrants failed to overcome [their] ‘alien’ complex” (Samson ed. 2000, 215), and the environment is perceived to have been one of the most influential factors in making Kaliningrad a region with some of the highest rates of crime, divorce, suicide and alcoholism in the RSFSR (interview with the Director of Kaliningrad Sociology Centre, 14 May 2001).1382
For the Director of Kaliningrad’s Sociology Centre, the majority of Kaliningrad’s population felt ‘alien’ in Kaliningrad in the Soviet period until they had put down roots in a very physical sense, in that they had buried a member of the family in the land. Kaliningrad did not feel like “home” until a member of the family had died, and been buried in Kaliningrad. This opinion was also expressed by recent arrivals from Central Asia (i.e. people who had moved to Kaliningrad in the post-Soviet period) although they also mentioned that they felt more comfortable living in Kaliningrad than in other Russian regions because in Kaliningrad ‘everyone is a migrant’. This idea that Kaliningrad serves as a ‘tansmigratory space’ within Russia, and a refuge for ethnics Russians claiming to have been forced from Former Soviet Republics, is an another area of research that appears to have been treated as taboo. And further, these opinions could clash with those of the first, second and now third generations of Kaliningrad-born inhabitants. There are certainly some ‘native’ Kaliningraders, who refer to themselves simply as ‘Kцnig’, for whom Kaliningrad is not an ‘alien place’, but a ‘home’ with a rather intriguing German past. Whether this past troubles them is another matter …
Kaliningrad and the ‘Balkanisation’ of the Baltic
And it was a ‘return to the future’ that led some commentators and analysts of international politics to greet the collapse of the USSR with a certain amount of fear - a fear that the Soviet annexations of 1939 and 1945, which were only recognised de facto and not de jure by the ‘international society’ of states, would not only be questioned by states and nations freed from ‘Moscow rule and hegemony’, but that this questioning would once more plunge Europe into conflict based on “primitive territorial logic” (for example, see Mearsheimer 1990). James Der Derian (1993) was concerned that the independence of the Baltic Republics could lead to a ‘Balkanising’ of the former USSR, and the Baltic Sea Region in particular. His fears centred on the possible problems that could arise from inter-ethnic tensions within the Baltic Republics between the titular nations and the Soviet-era arrivals, and the differences between the post-1991 and pre-1939 borders of these states. Why was it feared that not only would territorial claims be made, but that conflict would ensue?
Firstly, “the disintegration of a decaying empire and huge state is unlikely to be entirely peaceful” (Motyl 2001, 115). Here Alexander J. Motyl is referring to the collapse of the USSR, but when commenting on imperial decay and collapse in general, he noted that the break-up of empires is often bloody, whether as a result of external or internal conflict. There is an assumption that the core, or successor, is often unwilling to cede the empire’s territorial gains. This was the fear with the former Soviet territories, especially in the years 1990-91, with the events in Vilnius and Riga (January 1991) and the attempted putsch in Moscow (August 1991) lending further weight to these claims.1383
Secondly, Central and Eastern Europe was still perceived as a ‘problem area’ regarding nation and state building, and the potential for conflict was based on fears drawn from bitter historical experience. There were fears that many of the post-World War II borders would be called into question by the newly independent states, unhappy with the borders that they acquired after Yalta and Potsdam. It has been argued that this region of Europe has not only been a source of ‘world’ conflict, but also has a complex territorial history that suggests that ethnic and territorial conflict is a ‘norm’ (for example, see Bideleux and Jeffries 1998; Jedlicki 1999). With the end of Soviet hegemony in the region, it was assumed that “territorial settlements that appeared to be immutable” would be raised in the domestic and international spheres as borders imposed by a “Soviet diktat” that had to be reversed (Allcock 1992, 148-9).
In this respect, one would expect Kaliningrad to have been a key destabilising factor, with potential German, Lithuanian and even Polish claimants; and the new Russian government clamouring for unrestricted access through independent Lithuania to its newly detached region of Kaliningrad. Over the past decade or so one can find various political statements (interpreted in a variety of ways), inflammatory remarks and academic analyses that could have provided the spark:


  • There have been calls from German MEPs to ‘buy Kaliningrad back’ for Germany;1384

  • Lithuanian politicians have spoken in ambiguous terms about decolonising, demilitarising and ‘claiming Kaliningrad for Lithuania in a cultural sense’ (FN8);1385

  • Talk of a turning Kaliningrad into a Baltic Republic in the Russian Federation, connected to calls for increasing autonomy, have been interpreted as separatism (see Holtom 2003b);

  • Russian politicians have threatened to use Kaliningrad as a nuclear floating fortress against NATO enlargement or discussions on its Russianness, or as a pretext for opening their own claims against Lithuania’s own ‘East Prussian’ acquisition (Klaipeda/Memelland);1386

  • The Polish press gave extensive coverage to ideas relating to transforming Kaliningrad into an international condominium managed by Russia, Lithuania, Poland and Sweden (for example, Henzler 1992);

  • The fact that the US has not recognised Russian de jure ownership of Kaliningrad (Krickus 2002, 67).

In the early 1990s two American analysts - Phillip A. Peterson and Shane C. Peterson - drew up a list of seven ‘options’ for the future status of Kaliningrad:




  1. Territory remains Russian

  2. Territory reverts to Germany

  3. Territory is transferred to Poland

  4. Territory is transferred to Lithuania

  5. Split Kaliningrad oblast’ between Poland and Lithuania

  6. Independence

  7. Internationalisation of the Kaliningrad oblast’ (Peterson and Peterson 1993, 62)

Why has option one been accepted?


Accepting Russian Ownership of Kaliningrad?
In comparison to the historical justifications of Germany, Lithuania and Poland, the Russian claims on the territory of Kaliningrad appear weak. Therefore, one must ask: why have there been no challenges to Russian control of Kaliningrad from the German, Lithuanian or Polish governments? Three reasons will be given here for explaining why the German, Lithuanian and Polish governments did not lay claim to Kaliningrad when the USSR collapsed.

1. Kaliningrad’s ‘Slavic’ population
While one commentator has argued that careful resettlement policies, with the utmost care to prevent any hardship for Russians and Poles living in what was formerly East Prussia, could be carried out alongside repopulating this territory with descendants of its pre-1945 occupants (Bühler 1990, 136), this is viewed by many as an extreme position. Any attempts to re-populate the area with its former East Prussian inhabitants would be most unwelcome in Moscow, Vilnius and Warsaw. And as the former inhabitants of this area decrease in number, one could argue that this is a highly unlikely scenario for the foreseeable future. (I will not talk about their descendants…)
The fact that ‘humane population transfers’ was the description applied to the removal of the German occupants of former East Prussia in the period 1945-51 suggests that this option is unlikely to be adopted for the removal of Kaliningrad’s current inhabitants. Commenting on the removal of the German population from the Oder-Neisse territories in the immediate post-war period, one analyst has stated that “any large scale resettlement of population necessarily involves hardship and suffering. It is an extraordinary measure conceivable only in extraordinary times” (de Zayas 1979, 103). Therefore, if the current inhabitants cannot be ‘evicted’, could they be ‘assimilated’?
This idea has been explored by Raymond Smith (1993), who used the distinctions between ‘ethnic’ and ‘civic’ nations to assess whether Russia, Germany or Lithuania offered the best ‘nation’ model for incorporating Kaliningrad. In answer to the possibility of German, Lithuanian or Polish ‘absorption’ of Kaliningrad’s population, Ingmar Oldberg has stated that “incorporating Kaliningrad with its 950,000 poor inhabitants, 95 per cent of whom are Slavic, would be an enormous economic burden not only on Lithuania and Poland, but even on Germany, which since the 1990s has had great problems with ‘digesting’ the GDR” (Oldberg 2001, 20). So, neither absorption or population transfers appear to be appealing options at present, and this is not just because of the costs, but one could argue because of carrying over of some international norms from the Cold War period to the post-Cold War period.
2. Foreign Policy Ambitions and International Norms
Kaliningrad oblast’ is part of the RF. Germany has no territorial pretences towards the Kaliningrad oblast’. Our borders remain as defined by the Treaty, which was signed between our states on 12 September 1990. (…) It is not only fixed by international law, but it is also in the interests of Germany and all its European partners in the east and the west, that such a position remains.

(German ambassador to Russia Von der Gablentz, Qtd. in Kaliningradskaya Pravda 22 September 1994)


One area that most western commentators on Kaliningrad appear to agree upon is the position of the German government on the Kaliningrad issue. Peter Wцrster has claimed that: “neither official policy nor political parties nor public attitudes consider the possibility of returning the region of Kцnigsberg to Germany” (Wцrster 1995, 167). For Ingmar Oldberg, this position further demonstrates that Germany “is a peaceful and stable democracy, long totally integrated into NATO and the EU” (Oldberg 1998, 19; 2001, 20). So, has Germany’s Eastern Question finally been resolved? As I mentioned earlier, I will not go into the details of the debates on Kaliningrad’s status in international law, although I would like to draw attention to the fact that it appears to have been accepted that Germany has relinquished all claims to territory outside its current territorial borders, in an act that is termed ‘dereliction’ – i.e. unilaterally renouncing all historically justifiable claims to territory formerly considered to be part of the German state (Wellmann 2003, 288) - this policy did not explicitly transfer all of the territories which had been part of the German state from 1919-37, but which are no longer considered to be part of the German state.
It is due to such circumstances that the question of Kaliningrad’s status is sometimes referred to as still ‘open’ (Smith 1992). For many, the ‘Declaration of Friendship and Neighbourly Cooperation between the RSFSR and the Republic of Poland’, which was signed on 16 October 1990, during the visit of Polish Foreign Minister, Krzysztof Skubiszewski, to Moscow, lays to rest any possible Polish claims on Kaliningrad. And despite ‘Nationalists’ in Lithuania calling for non-recognition of Russian sovereign control of Kaliningrad, the same argument could be put for Lithuania with reference to the inter-state agreement between Lithuania and the RSFSR signed in the summer of 1991. The Lithuanian government’s position was clearly stated in 1994 by the Lithuanian Foreign Minister, Povilas Gilis:
I want to officially announce: we [Lithuania] have no territorial pretences towards Russia. We have no pretences on Kaliningrad land. It is necessary to separate the leadership of Lithuania from the positions of isolated politicians.

(Lithuanian Foreign Minister, Povilas Gilis in Izvestiya 26 March1994)


One can argue that raising claims on Kaliningrad would have hampered Lithuania’s and Poland’s dialogue with both the European Union and NATO. Here their aspirations to become members of the EU and NATO can be seen as arguably playing a key role in changing the value of territory and dampening demands for territorial change, as one of the key conditions of EU or NATO entry for applicants from Central and Eastern Europe is a commitment to border stability and inviolability. This has arguably not only played an important role in the maintenance of stability in Europe, but has also played an important role in the post-Soviet fate of Kaliningrad. However, EU membership does not always solve territorial disputes, and claims based on ‘primitive logic’ over territory can remain unsolved within the EU – as the case of Gibraltar demonstrates. An analogy which Raymond Smith has hinted at, although he has also envisaged Lithuania seeking to annex a ‘demilitarised Kaliningrad’, as “this is more or less what happened in 1923 in the Klaipлda territory (Memelland), a region of German-controlled Lithuania Minor adjacent to the newly independent Lithuanian state which was placed under the control of the Principal Allied powers by the Treaty of Versailles” (Smith 1993, 243).


3. The ‘Domino Effect’
But there is a third factor – the domino effect – to be taken into consideration. In Central and Eastern EUrope, as in Western Europe after World War II, territorial value has arguably decreased, and border stability has taken precedence over acquiring ‘historical’ lands in many parts of the continent. While the two above reasons attribute the lack of territorial claims on Kaliningrad in the post-Soviet period to changing attitudes to ethnic minorities and foreign policy ambitions and ‘international norms’, there is possibly another reason for maintaining the status quo – the ‘domino effect’.
It could be argued that the “ersatz peace settlement” of Potsdam and de facto recognition of border changes in northern Europe have helped to maintain peace and stability in this area in the post-Cold War period. The delicate structures that have kept the peace in the region could collapse if claims were brought onto the international stage by any one of the potential claimants on Kaliningrad.
For example, if the Lithuanian state pressed its claims on the Kaliningrad oblast’, as Smith (1992) believed it had a right to, then it is highly probable that the Russian Federation would meet this claim with a counter-claim for Lithuania’s own World War II East Prussian gain – the Memel/Klaipлda region. It is perhaps no coincidence that the Russian print media has used the noun ‘knot’ when referring to the status of Kaliningrad and Klaipлda. For example, the attention that Kaliningrad received in the early post-Soviet period in Lithuania prompted one Russian article to ask if it was “a new tangle of geopolitical problems being created or, on the contrary, is progress being made in untying the existing knot in a democratic manner” (Current Digest of the Post-Soviet Press 44(11), 1992, 17). Almost a decade later, the Russian State Duma Deputy, Viktor Alksnis (see Nezavisimaya gazeta 29 March 2001), stated that any questioning of Kaliningrad’s status would be the beginning of the untying of ‘the Baltic knot’, clearly stating that such questioning would also open up avenues for Russian claims on Klaipлda.
Furthermore, it now seems rather blasй to state that Polish attempts to exercise ‘historic rights’ on territory in the east could open the way for Germany to do the same regarding Poland’s western borders. One could therefore state that the current border arrangements have been held in place, to some extent, by the fear of a ‘domino effect’, where claims on one border area could give justifications for claims to be exercised on one of the claimant’s own border areas. The best policy, from the perspective of states that had gained territory at the end of World War II, appeared to be to abide by the UN Charter and borders recognised by the Helsinki Act as much as possible.
Conclusion
I am sure that I have not answered the question ‘why is Kaliningrad Russian?’ in this paper, and that is because there are still a number of related research questions that I believe require further investigation:
It may seem strange, but apart from the article mentioned here by Tony Sharp, little research has been carried out on the decision to transfer Kaliningrad to the RSFSR. The documentary records from Yalta, Potsdam and other allied war-time meetings formed the basis of Sharp’s article, and this leaves some gaps in the reasoning behind the decision to transfer Kaliningrad to RSFSR and not the LiSSR. For example, there were rumours circulating in the 1960s and 1970s that the Lithuanian Communist Party’s First Secretary Antanas Snieиkus had been offered the region in 1945 but refused Stalin’s offer for fear that Lithuania lacked the resources and personnel to reconstruct the territory, but little in the way of documentary evidence has been offered to support this story and others have dismissed this story as part of the rehabilitation of Snieиkus as a ‘national communist’ (Misiunas and Taagepera 1993, 347). So, why did Kaliningrad remain in the RSFSR?
‘The Russiannness of Kaliningrad’ is another avenue of which only the surface has been scratched. Questions regarding territorial belonging and space/place, as I hope my brief comments on Kostyashov’s project reveal, are still rather tricky. Yet, feelings of belonging and the relationship of the Kaliningrad’s current residents to the area’s pre-Soviet past and possible futures are areas for potential research. Steps have been taken in this direction by a Kaliningrad-born researcher currently writing her thesis in New York, Olga Sezneva. But she primarily concentrates upon the impressions of Kaliningrad-born Russians, while the new wave of post-Soviet settlers could also be of interest in this regard. It would certainly be interesting to learn more on the attitudes of Kaliningrad’s current inhabitants to the territory’s German past and its Soviet/Russian present. The discussions in the city of Kaliningrad relating to the 750th anniversary of the founding of Kцnigsberg (1255), represent one of the most interesting contemporary case studies for exploring political narratives on how to come to terms with the region’s pre-Kaliningrad past. The suggestion that Kaliningrad could serve as some form of ‘link’ between Russia and western/central Europe is another area that provides room for research questions on identity constructions and formations in and around the region.
It should also be noted that almost every time that the German chancellor Gerhard Schrцder and the Russian president Vladimir Putin meet, the Russian media releases a story, which claims that they spoke about the possibility of transferring Kaliningrad to Germany in exchange for paying-off Russian international debts. The precedent of Alaska is often invoked here –with a slight twist, of course. Yet this idea has also been hawked in extreme nationalist circles by Nikolai Lysenko, when he was the leader of the National-Republican Party of Russia in 1993, in the following manner:
[We need to] return to the well-tested conception of ‘a union of two Empires’ in Europe, to act as a block against the Anglo-American dominance of the world. (…) [The two empires that he was referring to, were the Russian and the German empires.] I am speaking as a Russian patriot (…) it is necessary to change our borders by treaties, and this might be achieved if we could reach an agreement with Germany. How? Russia could unite with Ukraine and Belarus, and Germany could receive Kaliningrad (…) I think that the land of East Prussia is not the most expensive price to pay for the restoration of Russian unity.

(Lysenko in “Rossiya i Germaniya: Kruglii stol” 1993, 144)


The fact that Kaliningrad will soon be effectively an exclave of the EU after enlargement, has led to a flurry of analyses on the impact of this process on movement of people, border controls and governance. This increased activity in research on Kaliningrad led me to wonder after I completed my thesis if there are there any areas left untouched? Surprisingly, one of the areas that has not attracted a great deal of attention is comparing and contrasting various aspects of Kaliningrad’s post-imperial detachedness/exclaveness with other unusual cases such as Gibraltar, Hong Kong etc. Analogies have been made, but rarely explored. One of the features of most Kaliningrad work it plays up the region’s ‘uniqueness’. Yet, discussions of ‘hybrid identities’, converting former imperial outposts/military naval bases into special economic zones, special arrangements with relation to sovereignty for exclaves and calls for a special status in the EU suggest that it might be worth exploring the phenomena that I would hazard to call ‘post-imperial detached regions’.

The European Union and Border Conflicts:

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  • Aalto, Pami (2003c) ‘Revisiting the Security/Identity Puzzle in Russo-Estonian Relations’, Journal of Peace Research 40(5): 575-93.
  • Aalto, Pami, S. Dalby and V. Harle (2003) ’The Critical Geopolitics of Northern Europe: Identity Politics Unlimited’, Geopolitics 8(1): 1-19.
  • Toal, Gerard [У Tuathail, Gearуid] (2002) ‘Theorizing Practical Geopolitical Reasoning: The Case of the United States’ Response to the War in Bosnia’, Political Geography
  • Dr Paul Holtom (Centre for Border Studies, University of Glamorgan)
  • Why is Kaliningrad Russian
  • Table 1: From East Prussia to Kaliningrad
  • Section IV of the Potsdam Declaration on Kцnigsberg, signed by US President Truman, Soviet leader Stalin and British Prime Minister Atlee and announced on 2 August 1945
  • 1. Kaliningrad’s ‘Slavic’ population
  • 2. Foreign Policy Ambitions and International Norms
  • The European Union and Border Conflicts