The Kaliningrad question is a political question concerning the status of Kaliningrad Oblast as an exclave of Russia, and its isolation from the rest of the Baltic region following the 2004 enlargement of the European Union.
In Western media, the region is most often discussed in relation to the deployment of missile systems, initially as a response to the deployment of missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic. Russia views the region as a vital element of its ability to project power in the Baltic region.
A fringe position also considers the return of the province to Germany from the Russian Federation or its independence from both. The former question is mostly hypothetical, as the current German government has stated that it has no claim to it. The current German government being a pacifist state does not wish to deal with any conflicts with dealing with the retaking of the area, the issue of the citizens within it, the financial considerations in rebuilding it and Germanizing it, and dealing with the Southern portion which is part of present-day Poland.
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Kaliningrad, or Königsberg, had been a part of a German state (the Teutonic Order, Kingdom of Prussia, and unified Germany) for several centuries before the Second World War, and the city was historically a rich German cultural center, is the home of – among others – the German philosopher Immanuel Kant.
The annexation of the Königsberg area of East Prussia to Russia became a stated war aim of the Soviet Union at Tehran Conference in December 1943. In 1945, at the end of World War II, the city was captured by the Soviet Union. As agreed by the Allies at the Potsdam Conference, northern Prussia, including Königsberg, was annexed by the USSR, which attached it to the Russian SFSR. In 1946, the city’s name was changed to Kaliningrad.
In October 1945, only about 5,000 Soviet civilians lived in the territory. Between October 1947 and October 1948, about 100,000 Germans were forcibly moved to Germany. About 400,000 Soviet civilians arrived by 1948. Some moved voluntarily, but as the number of willing settlers proved insufficient, collective farms were given quotas of how many people they had to send to Kaliningrad. Often they sent the least socially desirable individuals, such as alcoholics and the uneducated.
In the 1950s, Nikita Khrushchev suggested that the Lithuanian SSR should annex Kaliningrad Oblast. The offer was refused by the Lithuanian Communist Party leader Antanas Sniečkus, who did not wish to alter the ethnic composition of his republic. In the late Soviet era, rumors spread that the Oblast might be converted into a homeland for Soviet Germans.
Kaliningrad Oblast remained part of the Soviet Union until its dissolution in 1991, and since then has been an exclave of the Russian Federation. After the Soviet collapse, some descendants of the expellees and refugees traveled to the city to examine their roots. According to the 2010 Russian Census, 7,349 ethnic Germans live in the Oblast, making up 0.8% of the population.
In Germany, the status of Kaliningrad and the rights of expellees was a mainstream political issue until the 1960s, when the shifting political discourse increasingly associated similar views with right-wing revisionism.
According to a Der Spiegel article published in 2010, in 1990 the West German government received a message from the Soviet general Geli Batenin, offering to return Kaliningrad. The offer was never seriously considered by the Bonn government, who saw reunification with the East as its priority.
In 2001, the EU was alleged to be in talks with Russia to arrange an association agreement with the Kaliningrad Oblast, at a time when Russia could not repay £22 billion debt owed to Berlin, which may have given Germany some influence over the territory. Claims of “buying back” Kaliningrad or other secret deals were repudiated by both sides.
Another rumor about a debt-related deal, published by the Russian weekly Nash Continent, alleged that Putin and Edmund Stoiber had agreed on the gradual return of Kaliningrad in return for waiving the country’s $50 billion debt to Germany.
Support for Irredentism
Inesis Feldmanis, head of the Faculty of History and Philosophy at the University of Latvia, has been quoted saying that the Soviet Union’s annexation of Kaliningrad is “an error in history”.
The Freistaat Preußen Movement, one of the most active offshoots of the Reichsbürger movement, considers the Russian and German government as illegitimate and see themselves as the rightful rulers of the region. As of 2017, the movement is split into two competing factions, one based in Königsfeld, Rhineland-Palatinate and the other in Bonn.
Some political groups in Lithuania claim the parts of Kaliningrad Oblast between the Pregel and Nemunas Rivers, but they have little influence. Linas Balsys, a deputy in the Lithuanian parliament, has argued that the status of the enclave should be discussed at international levels.
In 1994, the former Lithuanian president Vytautas Landsbergis called for the separation and ‘decolonization’ of Kaliningrad from Russia. In December 1997, the Lithuanian parliament speaker Romualdas Ozolas expressed his view that Kaliningrad should become an independent republic.
After the annexation of Crimea in 2014, the political analyst Laurynas Kasčiūnas called for a revisiting of the Potsdam Agreement. He argued that residents of Kaliningrad would support a referendum to separate from Russia. The notion of a Lithuanian claim has been brushed off by Russian media, with the liberal Novaya Gazeta newspaper dismissing it as a ‘geopolitical fantasy’.
German Resettlement Attempts
In the 1990s, a far-right group calling itself Gesellschaft für Siedlungsförderung in Trakehnen attempted to establish a settlement in Yasnaya Polyana. Fundraising by the organization Aktion Deutsches Königsberg financed the construction of a German-language school and housing in the neighboring village of Amtshagen. Most of the settlers were Russian Germans from the Caucasus and Kazakhstan, rather than returnees.
Several dilapidated houses were bought and renovated; tractors, trucks, building materials, and machinery were imported into the village. The relatively high salaries attracted newcomers, and the ethnic German population rose to about 400 inhabitants. The construction of a second settlement in the outskirts of Trakehnen, named Agnes-Miegel-Siedlung, began in 1998.
Relations with the local Russian administration were initially cordial, but the activities of the group were suppressed by the Russian government after being publicized by German media. Dietmar Munier, the initiator of the project, was banned from traveling to Kaliningrad Oblast. In 2006, he sold his stake in the association to one Alexander Mantai, who turned it into a for-profit concern and evicted the original settlers. The association was liquidated in 2015 for violating the Russian law on NGOs.
In the 1990s, a group affiliated to Manfred Roeder collected donations to build housing for ethnic Germans in the village of Olchowatka, east of Kaliningrad.
The German government has indicated no interest in recovering Kaliningrad Oblast. The governments of Poland and Lithuania similarly recognize Kaliningrad as part of Russia, as does the European Union. It formally waived all territorial claims to the former East Prussia as part of the Two Plus Four Agreement that led to German reunification. In July 2005, the German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder declared that “in its heart [the city] will always be called Koenigsberg”, but stated that Germany did not have any territorial claim to it. According to Ulrich Speck, the prospect of returning Kaliningrad to Germany lacks support in Germany, even among fringe nationalist groups. In 2004, the German politician Jürgen Klimke asked the German federal government about its view on the establishment of a Lithuanian-Russian-Polish euro region, to be named ‘Prussia’. The initiator denied any revanchist connotations to the proposal.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia’s claim to Kaliningrad was not contested by any government, though some groups in Lithuania and Poland called for the annexation of the province, or parts of it.
Poland has made no claim to Kaliningrad and is seen as being unlikely to do so, as it was a net beneficiary of the Potsdam Agreement, which also decided the status of Kaliningrad.
The official position should be the return of East Prussia including the southern section from Poland. We would also want all cities & towns including Konigsberg naming restored to their proper German heritage.