Russia faces EU's new frontier
A bigger Europe will encircle Kaliningrad
In what may be history's most peaceful expansion, the European Union plans to pull up its fences and plant them to the east in 2004.Skip to next paragraph
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For the million residents of the Russian Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad, who will be completely surrounded by the new superstate, the threat of isolation poses both a crisis and an opportunity.
"Ten years from now, this territory will either be Hong Kong on the Baltic, or a new version of East Berlin," says Inna Konovalova, a local trader in amber.
How Kaliningrad's situation is handled could offer lessons in Russian-European relations to come, observers say.
Until now, the New Jersey-sized area has been known for just three things: its ice-free port, headquarters for the Russian Navy's Baltic Fleet; its amber; and the Curonian Spit, a peninsula of wetlands, forests, and sand dunes that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
But as the collision with Europe looms, the area has moved into the spotlight. Will Russian President Vladimir Putin maintain Kaliningrad as just another Russian region? Or will he let the local population find its own terms of integration with Europe?
Russia has kept economic and political control over the stranded region for the past decade, but that control will collapse once EU customs and visa regimes come into effect in neighboring Poland and Lithuania. No longer will Russia be able to supply cut-off Kaliningrad with cheap energy, raw materials for its industries, or provisions for the rusting Baltic Fleet.
"It is time for radical departures," says Sergei Pasko, leader of the independence-minded Baltic Republican Party. "If Moscow cannot solve our problems and it cannot then we must turn to Europe." Mr. Pasko's party is small, but many Kaliningraders say they think its plan to hold a public referendum on breaking with Moscow and associating with the EU might turn out to the region's only option if the Kremlin does not find compromises that allow local residents and business to continue their already extensive contacts with Europe.
Under Pasko's plan, Kaliningrad would remain nominally Russian, but local authority would take strict control over all immigration and movement through the territory. "The basic problem is that Europe will never open its borders with Kaliningrad as long as we are open to the East, and anyone from Russia can just fly in here," Pasko says.
Border control, however, is a degree of sovereignty the Kremlin is unlikely to concede. Last week the Kremlin appointed a nationalist parliamentarian, Dmitri Rogozin, as extraordinary presidential emissary to Kaliningrad. Locals are mindful that only one other Russian region the rebel republic of Chechnya has been assigned a special Kremlin envoy, and some fear the move may be a prelude to a form of martial law.
"This is not Chechnya here, and such fears are greatly exaggerated," says Alexander Milko, director of the Union of Businessmen and Entrepreneurs, the region's largest private sector association. "Still, Moscow may be looking for ways to tighten its grip here," he says. "But unless real solutions are found to address Kaliningrad's dilemma, this is going to become a very depressed, unhappy, and unstable little region in the middle of Europe."