Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 178

Vilnius, Riga and other Baltic cities have received appeals for humanitarian relief in the framework of the Baltic Cities’ Union (BCU) from Russia’s Kaliningrad region cities of Kaliningrad and Baltiisk. Baltiisk’s plea is highly significant: That city (Pillau before the Soviet occupation) is the main base of Russia’s Baltic fleet, and is inhabited almost exclusively by Russian military personnel and their dependents. The BCU Secretariat described the supply situation there as “critical.” Riga and several Lithuanian cities promptly announced their readiness to send relief supplies (BNS, September 28).

Meanwhile the chairman of the Kaliningrad region’s Duma, Valery Ustyugov, circulated yesterday an open letter warning the Russian government that “our European neighbors”–meaning the Baltic states and Germany–may use the situation “to increase their economic and political influence in the region.” Moscow’s inability to offer relief “weakens the population’s bonds to the center…. The issue of granting the region a special legal-political status or creating a Baltic Republic is widely being discussed in the [regional] press” (BNS, September 28).

Demands for upgrading the region’s status–a change designed to make closer relations with the Baltic states and Germany possible–predate Russia’s financial crisis, but have intensified since (see the Monitor, July 20, 28 and September 8, 9, 17). Last week the regional Duma adopted an address to the central government, warning that “popular discontent may reach a level that would seriously undermine Russia’s sovereignty over the region.” Governor Leonid Gorbenko, for his part, brushed aside criticism in Moscow over the recent establishment of a German economic mission in the region; and he announced that he would welcome the setting up of economic missions of the Baltic states (Russian Public TV, September 22; Russian agencies, September 19).