Before the Second World War, the territory of East Prussia was part of Germany. It was separated from the rest of the country by the so-called ‘Polish corridor’, which gave the Poles access to the Baltic, notably through the free port of Danzig (Gdansk). In 1945, the northern part of East Prussia was annexed into the Soviet Union by occupying forces, with the southern part given to Poland (see Yalta and Potsdam Conferences). East Prussia’s main asset was the city and port of Königsberg, the home town of the German philosopher, Immanuel Kant. Like the remainder of the territory, this was renamed Kaliningrad in 1946, in honour of the Soviet politician Mikhail Kalinin. The city’s importance lay in its potential as a military base, becoming the headquarters of the Soviet Baltic fleet. Although the Russian fleet and some airbases remain in Kaliningrad today, the end of the Cold War resulted in the withdrawal of many military personnel from the area.
With the enlargement of the European Union to include both Poland and Lithuania in May 2004, Kaliningrad became a Russian exclave wholly surrounded by Union territory. Already it faced severe economic and social problems by virtue of its isolation, lack of investment, pollution and high crime rate. Since then, Kaliningrad’s nearly one million inhabitants, 80 per cent of whom are Russian, have fallen still further behind, as its neighbours have begun to draw benefit from incorporation into the Union, including participation in the Schengen zone since December 2007. Foreseeing these problems, the European Commission has been active in seeking practical means of improving border crossings, transport infrastructure, and cooperation on energy and fishing. Such issues have been discussed with in the framework of the cooperation agreement signed by the EU with Russia in 1994, although the inevitably sensitive relations between the new member states and their former Soviet masters have complicated this process. Russia’s suggestion that Kaliningrad might be given a special status with respect to trade and economic development has not so far been taken up, and its realisation would probably depend in any case on a significant reduction in organised crime, and on Kaliningrad being given a higher degree of autonomy by Moscow, which is far from certain.
Further reading: James Baxendale et al (editors), The EU and Kaliningrad, 2000; Stefan Gänzle et al (editors), Adapting to European Integration? Kaliningrad, Russia and the European Union, 2008.
Copyright: Anthony Teasdale, 2012
Citation: The Penguin Companion to European Union (2012), additional website entry