Assessing the Kaliningrad Question
In a recent seminar at the Kennan Institute, Richard Krickus, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Mary Washington College discussed questions surrounding the current situation in Kaliningrad and its role in Russia-EU relations. Krickus explained the implications of the recently signed agreement between Russia and the EU on the transit of people and goods between Kaliningrad and the Russian Federation and speculated what the future might hold for the Russian oblast' following EU expansion.
Krickus observed that a high incidence of AIDS, crime and other social problems combined with major ecological and environmental contamination from the Soviet era, have created a very grim situation in Kaliningrad. Krickus stated that during the early 1990s, initially Russians maintained that Kaliningrad could become a "Hong Kong for Russia" an area where successful development projects and business initiatives could pave the way to opening Russia to the West. However, due to the closing of many of the region's largest military-industrial plants, the region's economy has worsened, leading many to refer to Kaliningrad as a "black hole."
According to Krickus, for both citizens of Kaliningrad and Western observers, interaction with EU economy is viewed as the only hope for Kaliningrad. Krickus explained that the EU has provided aid to the region through various technical assistance treaties (TACIS). According to official EU policy, Kaliningrad is no different in this regard than other Russian regions and therefore the issue has remained a question of aiding transportation and critical infrastructure development. Krickus stated that Lithuania, Poland, and members of the Scandinavian members of the EU have expressed concern about Kaliningrad's future.
Krickus noted that Moscow views Kaliningrad as a political rather than a technical question. Citing examples of past expansion, and the EU's top-heavy Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), Russian officials point out that technical issues have political implications. According to Krickus, Russian President Vladimir Putin remains optimistic about EU enlargement because a strong, expanded EU would help aid the revitalization of the Russian economy. Krickus noted that Putin's has personal ties to Kaliningrad (his wife is a native of the city) and he, along with other Russian officials, view the Kaliningrad issue as a litmus test for EU-Russia relations.
Krickus discussed the recent agreement between Russia and the EU on the transit of goods and people between the Russian Federation and Kaliningrad. The agreement states that Russians who wish to travel between Kaliningrad and Russia will have to have a Facilitated Transit Document (FTD) rather than a visa. In Krickus' opinion, this settlement was a victory for the Russians, who had argued strongly against the EU requiring a visa for transit between the two areas.
Krickus concluded by stating that it is difficult to predict the future of Kaliningrad. He suggested that the key issue remains the revitalization of the Russian economy, and contended that the broader issue of EU-Russia relations is not between Brussels and Moscow, but rather between the larger individual states (Germany, France, U.K.) and Russia.