When the Soviet Union officially collapsed in 1991, many former Soviet states gained independence. These nations then had the ability to embrace democracy and freedom. They looked towards western democracies because they felt the negative long-term effects of communism for decades. Once communism became a thing of the past, the Soviet Union formed the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). This strategy was implemented quickly in order to counter North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) expansion. Surprisingly, a small part of territory in Europe remained as part of the Russian Federation.
So, what is the name of this Russian piece of land in Europe? It is actually an enclave and it is called Kaliningrad.
Kaliningrad is a seaport city between Lithuania and Poland, which is situated on the Baltic Sea. Back in the day, it was an ancient Old Prussian settlement. In 1255, the Teutonic Knights built a fortress and named it Konigsberg, after King Ottokar II of Bohemia. Historically, Kaliningrad was part of the State of the Teutonic Knight Order, Prussia, Germany and the Polish-Lithuania Commonwealth. During the Second World War, the majority of Kaliningrad was destroyed (mainly by British air raids and the Soviet advance). Ultimately, it was captured by the Soviet Red Army in April of 1945. Most of the German population was either removed by force or fled on their own. The German language was then officially replaced by Russian.
In July of 1946, the enclave was officially named Kaliningrad (which was decided upon during the 1945 Potsdam Conference), after Mikhail Kalinin, a Stalinist functionary. The enclave gave Russia important naval access which included access to Gdansk Bay and the Strait of Balystik. It also gave Russia several airports and naval air bases which were and still are used by the Russian military today.
During the Cold War, the territory became extremely important to the Soviet Union. Kaliningrad was closed off to foreign visitors and had the Soviet Baltic Fleet stationed there. In the late 1950's, Poland officially sealed off all of its borders with the Soviet-controlled territory.
The territory is important from a naval perspective because it contains the town of Baltiysk, which is “ice-free" all year round. Since the early 1990s, Kaliningrad has been considered a Free Economic Zone, although civilian and military land links between the region and the rest of Russia have to pass through members of the European Union (EU) and must seek approval from NATO.
In the late 1990s, many manufacturers of products decided to move their factories to Kalinigrad because of tax breaks. Over the past two decades, several car manufacturers and TV producers operate facilities there. Shipping, lumber and fishing are also rapidly growing industries. Today, one in three televisions in Russia has been made in Kaliningrad. The Russian government stated that the region will eventually become the next “Hong Kong”.
The EU has been funding many projects in this Russian territory, so that businesses can expand. Business relations between both Kaliningrad and the EU have been magnificently increased over the past several years. Economic growth has been increasing over the past decade by approximately 10% each year. Kaliningrad is growing faster than any other region in Russia, even outstripping the success of its EU neighbors. Some members of the EU are eager to do even more business with this Russian territory, but some laws are still in place which are preventing this from happening. As of today, many Europeans still travel to this Russian territory to purchase products at discount prices. In addition, it allows Europeans to travel to Russia and contribute to the overall Russian economy. This has been seen as a positive step forward in economic relations between the EU and Russia, according to many Russian officials.
The food and beverage industry is also growing in Kaliningrad. Different types of vodka and beer are sold in large quantities (primarily to the EU and North America) as well as many new types of restaurants have emerged. These restaurants include German, Polish and Russian cuisine. Asian and Italian cuisine is popular as well. In 2011, American-based companies such as Subway and McDonald's entered into agreements to do business in Kaliningrad.
Many military strategists believe that the biggest dilemma for the future of Kaliningrad deals with NATO expansion and the enlargement of Poland's military. In the past, Russian military leaders warned both the U.S. and Poland about deploying a missile defense system inside of Poland. Russian leaders claimed that if NATO goes ahead with this plan, then nuclear weapons would be deployed in Kaliningrad as a counter-measure. In late 2011, the Voronezh radar system was deployed in Kaliningard. This long range radar system provides early-warning detection of a potential ballistic missile launch. The Russian government plans to replace most of their older radar systems with the Voronezh through 2020.
Still many military strategists are concerned over this territory because during the Cold War it is estimated that at least 100,000 Soviet troops were stationed in Kaliningrad (though there are some estimates that estimate up to 300,000). Furthermore, many military experts believe that nuclear weapons were also moved to various locations within the Russian territory at the time.
Today, Kaliningrad looks like any other Russian city, it still has many churches, parks, and historical castles. Many German-era buildings in the historic city center have been preserved and even rebuilt.
Juditten Church is still the oldest building in Kaliningrad, which was built in 1288. In July of 2005, the 750-year jubilee of the territory was widely celebrated.
There is no doubt that Kalingrad is a fascinating place that is rich in culture, history, and art. It is seen by Russians as their land, but the rest of Europe still has mixed feelings about it. Recently, the Polish military has constructed watch towers on the border of Kaliningrad.
The Polish government feels that Russia's recent annexation of Ukraine could lead to further annexations. Moreover, many Poles and Germans feel that Kaliningrad is really part of both Poland and Germany. Moreover, the U.S. government and its European allies will do whatever they can to prevent Russia from using Kaliningrad to annex further territories in Eastern Europe. Especially the fact that Russia is deploying nuclear weapons in the small enclave.
It will be interesting to see what unfolds in this small piece of territory in the near future. One has to wonder if Russia will ever give the land back to its European counterparts or if they will hold onto it for as long as they can.