Thursday, December 10, 2015

Moscow Fears Kaliningrad Might Face a Crimea-Style Blockade

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 10 – The Crimean blackout has forced Moscow officials to begin to think about how much of a threat of a similar energy blockade to Kaliningrad there may be and what the authorities in Moscow and those in the Russian exclave should do to prepare for the worst, according to Regnum’s Andrey Vypolzov.

            He reports that not only have senior Moscow officials gone to Kaliningrad to discuss what should be done but also members of the Duma have begun to speak about the need for “rapid technical decisions” concerning Kaliningrad in the wake of the Crimean events (

            At one level, Vypolzov says, the situation of the two “islands” is similar: Both are sites of major Russian military bases and both are surrounded by hostile states. However, he suggests, Kaliningrad has certain advantages that could prove decisive if anyone began to think about a blockade of the exclave.

            On the other hand, he continues, Moscow does not have some of the options in Kaliningrad that it has in Crimea. There is no possibility of building a bridge from Russia proper to the region. And consequently, the Russian government needs to ensure that Kaliningrad’s energy needs are met in Kaliningrad.

            At present, “up to 98 percent” of Kaliningrad’s electricity needs are provided by the Kaliningrad thermal power plant, which is powered by natural gas. That gas comes via a pipeline which goes from Minsk to Vilnius to Kaunas to Kaliningrad, a route in which there are two NATO country cities and one unreliable ally capital.

            Last summer, Vypolzov says, Kaliningrad’s governor told him that “thank God” Vilnius has had sense enough not to block this gas line. But relying on God in this instance is clearly not enough.

            Kaliningrad also relies on coal, and that fuel comes via train, again through Lithuania or by sea through an area which “Poland theoretically controls.” Thus, there is a need to find new and more independent sources of power because the US and NATO decide to put pressure on Moscow by a blockade of Lithuania, the Regnum writer says.

            There are essentially two ways Russia could do so, he suggests. Either it could extend a branch of the Nordstream pipeline to the exclave, or it could build a Baltic atomic power plant there.

            “For the absolute energy security of Kaliningrad oblast,” Vypolzov says, Kaliningrad needs the atomic – but only on the condition that it will be dedicated to supplying the region rather than selling its power to foreign countries.  At present, discussions about such a plant are based on exactly the opposite assumption; and Moscow has not intervened.

            “There is yet another similarity of Crimea and Kaliningrad,” Vypolzov says, and that involves “problems with transportation access to mainland Russia.” A Kerch bridge will “quickly solve this issue” for Crimea, but “there is no [equivalent] solution for Kaliningrad” on offer.

            There has been talk about Russia renting a 60 kilometer corridor along the Polish-Lithuanian border, but agreement on that now is “unrealistic,” although the journalist says, “it isn’t harmful of course to dream.”

            That makes air communications even more important, but in that sector there are problems. Even though Moscow subsidizes the Kaliningrad-Moscow route, it operates fully only part of the year (from May to October) and costs more than twice as much as flights to Europe. Not surprisingly, many Kaliningraders now look west rather than east.

            And nothing is being done to modernize the Kaliningrad airport. It was privatized, but the new owner hasn’t seen a way to make a profit and hasn’t done what is needed as even Vladimir Putin complained at a recent meeting in Moscow.  Unless something is, Kaliningrad could be increasingly cut off from Russia.

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