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Kaliningrad Oblast

Noncontiguous region of the Russian Republic located on the Baltic Sea and separated from Russia proper by the territories of Lithuania and Belarus. The Kaliningrad Oblast had previously been part of the northern third of German East Prussia. During World War II the area was occupied by the Red Army. In Section V of the Potsdam Protocol at the July 1945 Potsdam Conference, the Allied leaders agreed that "pending the final determination of territorial questions at the peace settlement," the city of Königsberg (now Kaliningrad) and area adjacent to it would be transferred to the Soviet Union. Moscow was anxious to secure the area as a base on the Baltic Sea.

The Kaliningrad Oblast is 5,830 square miles in area, and Königsberg's 1945 population was 140,000 people. Most of the Germans who had previously inhabited the territory fled the advancing Red Army or were expelled after the fighting in the area ended in April 1945. The city of Königsberg was 90 percent destroyed during a two-month Soviet siege, and civilian casualties were extremely high.

The Soviets began rebuilding the city in 1946 and renamed it Kaliningrad. Historical sites that had survived the fighting, such as Königsberg Castle, were destroyed by the Soviets in an effort to eradicate the former German presence. Kaliningrad, connected to the Baltic Sea by an inland channel, and its nearby port, Baltiysk (Pillau), remain ice-free year-round and served during the Cold War as the Soviet Union's principal Baltic naval base. Until early 1991 the entire region was a restricted military area off-limits to foreigners and non-resident Soviet citizens.

Before the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, the region was attached to the USSR. It is now separated from the Russian Republic by 600 miles of foreign territory, and unimpeded overland communication with Kaliningrad has been a matter of contention between Russia and Lithuania. In 1991 the region had 900,000 inhabitants, of whom 412,000 resided in Kaliningrad. The majority of the residents at the beginning of the twenty-first century are the offspring of Russians who had moved to the region after the war, but there are also inhabitants of Ukrainian and Belarusian descent.

Uncertainty over the future of Kaliningrad accompanied the somewhat chaotic collapse of the Soviet Union. Some nationalist enthusiasts in Lithuania called for the inclusion of what they called "Lithuania Minor" in a Greater Lithuania. Yet some ethnic Germans from the former Soviet republics in Central Asia moved to Kaliningrad after 1991 and increased the German component of the area. The 1994 official tally of ethnic Germans in the region was 5,000, but the actual figure was probably closer to four times as large. As a result of the growing German population, some Russian and Slavic inhabitants of the territory feared that German investment there might be a prelude to German territorial claims.

Economically speaking, the collapse of the Soviet Union hit the region hard. Subsidies from Moscow were reduced, and Soviet-related defense industries went into a steep decline. Local producers of consumer goods have also suffered as a result of growing competition from goods produced outside Russia. Some two-thirds of consumer goods are imported. In 1991 the province was declared a free economic zone. However, in 1993 a conflict arose between Kaliningrad and the federal Russian government over a new law on customs and tariffs. Kaliningrad certainly harbors economic potential, but much depends upon Russian policy and its relations with the European Union. The region boasts abundant natural resources, including amber, offshore oil deposits, peat, mineral water, salt mines, fish, and timber, and also possesses an educated and low-cost labor force. Switzerland, Lithuania, and Germany have been leading investors and trading nations with Kaliningrad since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Bernard Cook

Further Reading
Liulevicius, Vejas G. Is Kaliningrad Really Lithuania Minor? The Baltic Crucible of National Identities. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1995.; Manthey, Jürgen. Königsberg: Geschichte einer Weltbürgerrepublik. Munich, Germany: Hanser, 2005.; Williams, Christopher, and Thanasis Sfikas, eds. Ethnicity and Nationalism in Russia, the CIS and the Baltic States. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 1999.

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