Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 143

President Vladimir Putin is presiding over a meeting of the Kremlin’s Security Council today to discuss the fate of the Kaliningrad region. Specifically, the Security Council session will be devoted to discussing possible ways to “protect” the Russian enclave, which is wedged between Lithuania and Poland, against the European Union and NATO expansion. According to the website, the Kremlin has already decided to turn the region into a federal district. The only question that apparently remains is whether to do so de jur or to maintain it formally as an oblast while putting it under special federal rule. Last year, Putin decreed seven federal districts into being, each under the jurisdiction of a presidential representative, as part of his attempt to create a presidential “vertical” of power over Russia’s eighty-nine regions. The website reported yesterday (July 25) that Putin had already approved the appointment of a presidential representative to Kaliningrad. According to other reports, the Kremlin has not made a final decision over whether to turn Kaliningrad into a federal district. Two other plans are under consideration. One of them, floated by the presidential administration, proposes creating a directorate to oversee the federal program for Kaliningrad’s economic development, to be chaired by a cabinet minister. The other involves setting up a special department for Kaliningrad under the administration of Viktor Cherkesov, the presidential representative to the North-West federal district., however, reported that Putin has already decided who his representative in Kaliningrad will be, and that while Cherkesov was asked to submit a list of possible candidates for that post, his choices were rejected (, July 25; Vedomosti, July 24).

Whatever decision comes out of today’s Security Council meeting, it is likely to greatly weaken the power of Kaliningrad’s regional administration, headed by its governor, Vladimir Yegorov. This is somewhat ironic, given that the victory of Yegorov, the former commander of the Russian Navy’s Baltic Fleet, over Leonid Gorbenko in last November’s gubernatorial election was widely seen as a major success in the Kremlin’s bid to replace regional strongmen with loyalists (see the Monitor, November 22, 2000). However, with Poland’s entry into NATO and the Baltic states’ planned entry into the European Union, the Kremlin clearly fears that simply having a loyal governor in place in Kaliningrad will not be enough to ensure Moscow’s economic control over the region, which has languished despite its status as a special economic zone. Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo recently said that in light of NATO expansion and the Baltic state’s impending entry into the EU, the issue of Kaliningrad’s development was not only economic, but had “political and strategic aspects” (Izvestia, July 21). Valery Ustyugov, a member of the Federation Council representing Kaliningrad, said: “It seems to me that the Security Council is primarily concerned about NATO’s eastward expansion. There are plans to give Kaliningrad a special role in this process, which is why the Security Council is preparing so intensively. The Kaliningrad Region will be granted exactly as much freedom in integration with the EU as meets the requirements of Russia’s national security” (Vedomosti, July 24). Kaliningrad is currently exempted from paying value-added tax on exports and imports, excises and customs duties, and the Kremlin, in an apparent attempt to offset EU influence, is preparing to grant it even more tax privileges.