Thursday, October 24, 2019

‘What Would have Happened had Gorbachev Given Kaliningrad to Germany?’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 20 – Sometimes the asking of a question is more interesting than any answers that might be offered. Such a case has now happened with a Russian commentator asking one of the most sensitive questions imaginable: “what would have happened had Gorbachev given Kaliningrad to Germany?”

            Any discussion of changing borders at Russia’s expense is potentially against the law in Russia, especially if it involves World War II trophies like Kaliningrad and the Kuriles, and any indication that these places would have been better off if they had been returned t their prior owners is highly offensive to Russian sensibilities.

            In an article on the Russian Seven portal, Taras Repin avoids the first by discussing the Kaliningrad question in the past and denying that any change is possible, but he doesn’t avoid the second because he suggests that Kaliningrad, had it become Koenigsberg again, would look far better than it does (

            Since 1945, the journalist says, “Kaliningrad was always been viewed as an inalienable part f the USSR, and the Federal Republic of Germany has never declared that it has a right to it.” It became Soviet after Stalin made a claim t it in 1943 in Tehran and the allied powers agreed to that at the Potsdam conference in 1945. 

            In April 1945, Koenigsberg Oblast became part of the RSFSR, a name that lasted only until July 4, 1946, when it was renamed Kaliningrad Oblast. In October 1948, Moscow deported the remaining 100,000 Germans were deported, replacing them with Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians. 

            There things std until 1990, despite occasional press reports that Moscow had only rented the region for 49 years.  But when the issue of German reunification arose, Kaliningrad’s status appeared to be in motion once again.  German media subsequently said that Moscow had offered to discuss returning Kaliningrad to Germany, something Gorbachev and other Russians denied.   

Since then some German commentators and parliamentarians have occasionally raised the possibility f Kaliningrad’s return, but the German government has refrained from ding so. Nonetheless, there is a widespread view that at some future pint it might be possible, Repin continues. 

However that may be, the more interesting and potentially more explosive part of the Russian journalist’s article now concerns his speculations about what Kaliningrad might have looked like if it had become Koenigsberg again.  

Had Stalin not insisted on annexing Koenigsberg, Repin says, “it is probable that we would see a completely different city.”  The Soviet authorities did everything to destroy “everything connected with German history” and rebuilt the city “according to the Soviet model.” Had it retained control, Germany would have behaved otherwise.

“It is sufficient to compare Kaliningrad and the small Polish city of Gołdap, which is located three kilometers from the Russian border and which was part of East Prussia before the war. It too was largely destroyed in 1944-1945, but it has been rebuilt as “a comfortable contemporary town” with German accents from the past.

If Koenigsberg had remained German or was to be returned to Germany, there would be far more Germans and almost no Russians, Ukrainians or Belarusians. Moscow would lose a powerful economic and militarily strategic outpost, although NATO would not gain that much because it can base troops in the Baltic countries.

The biggest reason other than Russian opposition to think that Kaliningrad will not become part of Germany again, however, is that it would cost the German state budget enormous sums, perhaps rivalling those of its reabsorption of East Germany. “For a country with serious domestic problems, this would be an unbearable burden.”

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