Kaliningrad Oblast

Kaliningrad Oblast
   An administrative region of the Russian Federation. Part of the Northwestern Federal District and forming its own economic region, Kaliningrad is sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania, forming a Russian exclave on the Baltic Sea. The region is comprised of the northern half of East Prussia, which was annexed by the Soviet Union after World War II. The southern half of the German exclave was transferred to Poland after the war and confirmed in 1990 with the German-Polish Border Treaty. Originally, the Poles were to gain control of Königsberg (Kaliningrad); however, Joseph Stalin’s desire for an ice-free port for the Russian navy, buttressed by ideological rationales, resulted in Moscow’s decision to annex the region to the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. At the end of the war, the predominantly German population of some 2 million was forcibly removed and replaced by Slavic settlers.
   Of the oblast’s nearly 1 million current inhabitants, there are 786,885 ethnic Russians (82 percent), 50,748 Belarusians (5.3 percent), and 47,229 Ukrainians (5 percent), according to the 2002 census. As the region is separated from Russia by members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU), Kaliningrad’s political situation is often a point of contention between Moscow and the West. In 2004, Brussels and Moscow were at loggerheads over land travel between Kaliningrad and metropolitan Russia, with the former demanding visas for Russian citizens passing through the Schengen zone and the latter proposing the use of “sealed trains” for Russian citizens. Ultimately, a compromise solution established a controlled, visa-free travel corridor between the oblast and Russia proper.
   The region’s unique economic status within the Russian Federation (it singularly comprises the Kaliningrad Economic Region) gives businesses in the region priority status in trade with the rest of the federation. The proximity to European markets has also resulted in a flourishing black market of narcotics, cigarettes, alcohol, and other products passing through en route to Western Europe. Kaliningrad is one of only four locales in Russia permitting casinos after 1 July 2009. Per capita, the region suffers from one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in either Russia or Europe; with some 350 cases per 100,000 people, rates of infection are estimated at tenfold those of neighboring Lithuania.
   During the 1990s, Kaliningrad had one of the highest rates of unemployment outside the North Caucasus; however, the demand for skilled labor has recently increased in the region. Amber extraction, agriculture, fisheries, shipbuilding, railcar manufacture, and military expenditures are also important economic drivers for the region. Kaliningrad Oblast is the most heavily militarized area of the Russian Federation, and the density of military infrastructure is the highest in Europe. Kaliningrad serves as the headquarters of the Russian Baltic Fleet, and also houses the Kaliningrad Chkalovsk, Chernyakhovsk, and Donskoye air bases.
   In 1993 and 1998, regional leaders attempted to gain the status of a republic but were rebuffed by Moscow. In the latter case, the regional governor Leonid Gorbenko opposed the move, arguing instead for closer relations with Belarus (which, along with Lithuania, separates the region from Russia). Under his administration, Kaliningrad was able to command a level of autonomy rivaled only by Russia’s ethnic republics, despite the region’s official status as an oblast. His protectionist efforts stanched the flow of foreign investment into the region during the late 1990s (an abrupt departure from the region’s status as a Free Economic Zone from 1991 to 1995), and prevented integration with the rest of the Baltic region.
   Gorbenko was defeated by the former admiral of the Baltic Fleet, Vladimir Yegorov, in 2000. Yegorov stressed that Kaliningrad must function as a bridge between Europe and Moscow, and serve as a pilot project for Russia’s integration into European economic space; however, such vectors were compromised by the row over transit visas. In 2005, Yegorov was replaced by Putin appointee Georgy Boos, a close ally of Moscow’s mayor, Yury Luzhkov. In recent years, there has been an increase in German investment, as well as nostalgia tourism from Germany.
   In July 2007, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov declared that if the United States builds its defensive missile system in Poland and the Czech Republic, Moscow will possibly respond by deploying nuclear weapons in Kaliningrad. Previous reports suggest that tactical nuclear weapons are already present in the oblast; in late 2008, Dmitry Medvyedev announced plans to deploy short-range missiles to the region as well.
   See also Air Force; Navy.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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