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Kaliningrad's Uncertain Future Could be Problematic for Russia, Lithuania


A U.S. scholar on Russia spoke Tuesday about the future of the enclave of Kaliningrad, the Baltic sea territory that is separated from mainland Russia by Lithuania and Belarus.

Richard Krickus, a professor of political science at Martha Washington University in Virginia is not optimistic about Kaliningrad. He said it is impossible to predict the future of the territory where nearly one million Russian speakers reside. Once Lithuania and Poland enter the European Union, Kaliningrad will in effect be surrounded by members of the European Union. New arrangements governing the transit of Kaliningrad citizens across Lithuania to Russia are currently being negotiated.

Mr. Krickus said while there is no separatist movement in Kaliningrad, people there are becoming aware of their unique situation. "I think there is no question that people are beginning to see themselves as being unique, because they are. They are living outside of Russia proper. They are a territorial entity of Russia but the fact remains that that territory is embedded in Europe," he said. Kaliningrad used to be German East Prussia. It was seized by Russia during the Second World War. Germany has long since abandoned its claim over the territory. Germans were forced out of Kaliningrad and their place taken by Soviet citizens, most of them Russians. There is a substantial but now diminished Russian military presence in Kaliningrad numbering about 25,000 troops and sailors.

At the same forum a Lithuanian official spoke of the need to narrow the widening income gap between Kaliningrad and its more rapidly transforming neighbors. Lithuania and Poland are the leading investors in the territory but its economy remains very weak. Professor Krickus suggests that the European Union and Russia cooperate to boost investment in Kaliningrad.

"I would urge my friends in Moscow to work with western businesses and use Kaliningrad as a testing ground. Whether that is viable or not I don't know. But I think at least it should be tried," he said. "And that's what I think the next step should be. Moscow has to demonstrate that it is really concerned about the people in Kaliningrad."

Ten years ago there was optimism that Kaliningrad could become a free port territory, a kind of Hong Kong Russian window on Europe. That optimism, says Mr. Krickus, has vanished into gloom that the territory will remain a black hole of neglect, crime, ill health and environmental damage.