Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 138

The former chairman of Russia’s Federation Council, Vladimir Shumeiko, calls for raising the Kaliningrad region’s status to that of a “Russian Baltic Republic” within the Russian Federation. Shumeiko, a Yeltsin loyalist during his tenure as chairman of the upper chamber, subsequently launched the movement “Reforms-New Course” and is now running for the post of governor of Kaliningrad region.

Writing in the July 17 issue of Izvestia, Shumeiko warns that “hotheads in the region are ready to place it under the protectorate of a neighboring state”–an allusion to Lithuania. Such “separatist moods,” according to him, are fanned by Moscow’s plan to revoke the tax breaks currently enjoyed by the region as a special economic zone. The region ought to be granted republican status in order to “buttress Russia’s western border,” he argues. (Izvestia, July 17, cited by Russian agencies)

East Prussia, with its capital Koenigsberg (renamed Kaliningrad) was ethnically cleansed of its indigenous German population after World War II and was divided between the USSR and Poland. The ex-Soviet part consists of Russia’s Kaliningrad region and a smaller area in Lithuania. Since 1991, Kaliningrad region is an exclave separated from Russia by Lithuania. Some Lithuanian nationalist groups describe Kaliningrad region as “Lesser [Smaller] Lithuania” and advocate its unification with the Lithuanian state. The Lithuanian government and the parties represented in parliament disavow that idea. Official Vilnius promotes direct economic links with Kaliningrad region and also seeks its eventual demilitarization. The Kaliningrad leadership hopes that economic links with Lithuania and other Baltic countries may alleviate the region’s dire economic situation. A small number of Germans–including some expellees’ offspring from Germany and some Volga Germans from Russia–have trickled into Kaliningrad region; but more ambitious proposals to resettle Germans there have failed for lack of adequate funding from Germany.