Monday, September 22, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Kaliningrad Separatism Now a Foreign Policy and Domestic Issue

Paul Goble


            Staunton, September 22 – Statements by Lithuanian and Polish commentators about Kaliningrad and actions by the Russian authorities against activists in that non-contiguous Russian Federation exclave suggest that the issue of separatism there is an increasingly lively one even if the prospects for any change in its status are not great.


            Last week, Laurynas Kasciunas, an analyst at the Vilnius Center for Research on Eastern Europe, said that “having seized Crimea and attacked the territory of Eastern Ukraine, Russia is violating international agreements about the inviolability of state borders, and this provides a basis for reminding it that in 1945 at the Potsdam conference, Karalaucius [the Lithuanian name for Koenigsberg] was given to it for 50 years” (


            That 50 year period “ran out long ago,” he continued, but despite there being a legal and political basis for raising the issue, neither Great Britain nor the United States currently has the political will to do so.  “Most likely,” Kasciunas said, “this case will simply be forgotten as was forgotten the Budapest Memorandum” about the territorial integrity of Ukraine.


            The only way that the status of Kaliningrad could be changed, he suggested, is by the actions of residents of the exclave who could demand a referendum on their status and by a change in Moscow’s attitude. The former is possible, of course, but there is little prospect for the latter.


            Thomas Janeliunas, a political scientist at the University of Vilnius, responded that the West has good reason not to raise this issue: If it did, he told, that would open a Pandora’s box of border issues going back not only to the period of World War II but much earlier. 


            Meanwhile, in Poland, Mariusz Cielma, the editor of the portal “Dziennik Zbroyny,” suggested that Warsaw should respond to Putin’s threats to occupy the Baltic capitals, Warsaw and others by pointing out that the Polish army could take Kaliningrad in the course of 48 hours (,10,51,7959,komentarze,1,w-48-godzin-mozemy-byc-pod-kaliningradem).


            The ability of Poland’s forces to do just that, Cielma argued, is greater than Putin’s ability to carry out his threat, and that possibility is something the Kremlin leader ought to be taking into account before he makes any more threats.


Meanwhile, inside Kaliningrad itself, activists are calling Oleg Savvin, Mikhail Feldman and Dmitry Fonaryov political prisoners and arguing that the Russian authorities are making the situation worse by charging them with attempting to break Kaliningrad off from Russia and have it join the European Union (


Russian prosecutors have brought charges of that against the four because they raised the German flag on the top of a garage opposite FSB headquarters in Kaliningrad, an action the portal says did not last very long or attract much attention at the time.  But by bringing charges of separatism against the four, Moscow is doing more than they could to promote such ideas.

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