Baltic Sea

Baltic Sea
   The Baltic Sea is a brackish inland sea in northern Europe bounded by the Scandinavian Peninsula, Finland, Russia, the Baltic States, Poland, Germany, and Denmark. Its surface area is 377,000 square kilometers, with a maximum depth of 459 meters. Russia gained access to the sea during the reign of Peter the Great, who, in 1703, founded St. Petersburg on the Baltic coast as Russia’s “window to the west.” During the 18th and 19th centuries, Romanov Russia expanded its access through the acquisition of Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and parts of Poland. Much of this territory was lost after World War I, though Soviet Russia maintained territory around Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). After World War II, the annexation of East Prussia (Kaliningrad Oblast) and the Baltic States reverted much of the Baltic coastline to Moscow’s control. With access to the North Sea controlled by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member Denmark, Soviet naval traffic in and out of the body of water was carefully monitored by the United States and its allies during the Cold War. Tensions with Sweden also flared due to violations of the neutral state’s waters by both NATO and Warsaw Pact navies.
   With the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the military situation in the sea became relatively calm, accompanied by a comparatively amiable delineation of new maritime boundaries. Economic activity in the region is extremely robust. With the exception of Kaliningrad and the environs around St. Petersburg, the basin countries all currently belong to the European Union. Baltic cruises that dock in St. Petersburg, Helsinki, Tallinn, and Riga are now popular with tourists.
   In recent years, a Russo-German plan to develop the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline under the Baltic has angered the Baltic States and Poland, which fear they will be politically and economically sidelined by the project, viewing it as removing them from the political calculus of European energy security. Environmentalists also reject the proposed project, favoring overland alternatives.
   See also Espionage; GAZPROM; Schröder, Gerhard; St. Petersburg; Transportation.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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