Kaliningrad Is a Foothold of Russian Militarism
Kaliningrad, formerly Königsberg, is one of the last elements that forms the internationally recognized border of the Russian Federation in Europe. This territory was one of the last to come under Moscow's control, in 1945, following the end of World War II. From a legal point of view, there can be no doubt that Kaliningrad and the Kaliningrad region, the northern part of historic East Prussia, belong to Russia. But it is worth looking at how strong Moscow's dominance is in Kaliningrad, a piece of land over the Baltic cut off from Russia by Lithuania and Belarus.
But on the other hand, is it logical that the region that was the center of German militarism still remains the most militarized zone in Europe and a foothold for Russian militarism in the South Baltic? Militarism that proved on February 24, 2022, that it is capable of launching a major military aggression against a sovereign European state, Ukraine. And this dangerous foothold is located within a united Europe that has not known war for decades.
History of East Prussia
East Prussia on the Baltic played a major role in German history. To be fair, it is a land conquered by the Germans during the Crusades. It originally belonged to the Baltic tribes, the Prussians. Hence the name. This territory came under the rule of the German Teutonic Order in the late 13th century. The Prussian language finally died out in the early 18th century. Eventually, it was around the Kingdom of Prussia, which also included the Central German states, that Germany was unified in the late 19th century. The expression "Prussian spirit" became synonymous with the German military character... East Prussia ceased to be German after World War II. Its history ended tragically. At the Potsdam Conference of 1945, the Allies decided to take East Prussia away from Germany and give it to the USSR. The USSR received a third of this territory, and the rest went to Poland. In the former East Prussia, the Polish community also lived in the territories that were ceded to Poland.
During the war, the population of East Prussia suffered enormous losses. The capital of the region was renamed from Königsberg to Kaliningrad in honor of the chairman of the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet, the nominal head of state under Stalin. The Russian Communists created the Kaliningrad Oblast as part of the RSFSR. Memel or Klaipeda was transferred to the Lithuanian SSR, as from 1923-1938 this city was part of independent Lithuania (forcibly incorporated into the USSR in 1940). Since 1946, the region was settled by Soviet citizens. The German population was deported in 1947, mostly to the Soviet zone of occupation of Germany, the future puppet GDR. Some German specialists stayed until 1949, but were also deported. Germany, represented by the Federal Republic of Germany, recognized the Kaliningrad region's belonging to the USSR in 1970 through the Moscow Treaty, signed during Chancellor Willy Brandt's visit to the USSR. Finally, the Kaliningrad region's belonging to the USSR was cemented by the 1975 Helsinki Accords.
"Russia Is the Homeland of Elephants". East Prussia Is the "Land of the Russians"
The phrase about elephants in the Russian language was used as an ironic response to the fact that the official propaganda of the USSR tried to give priority to any of the inventions of the Russians. The radio, the steam locomotive, the airplane, and many other inventions were declared to be such inventions. Today, Russian propaganda has achieved the result that the mass consciousness in the Russian Federation is, by and large, incapable of critical perception of its postulates and ironic reaction. Criticism and irony were dangerous before, in Stalin's time, when the elephant joke was born, but now we can talk about the practical voluntary refusal of Russians to react to officialdom in this way. In the case of the former East Prussia, this is especially noticeable.
The German history of the region cannot be denied, but then fiction comes to the rescue. The Balts-Prussians become Rusians (Ruthenians), or Russians by consonance. The land is declared Slavic or Baltic-Slavic, and it is said that the Germans conquered the "Rusian" (Rus’ or Ruthenia) land, which, in turn, is identified, according to Russian propaganda, with Russia. After the conquest, the Germans allegedly organized the genocide and assimilation of these "Prussians-Rusians" or Russians. And this blatant, completely artificial nonsense about Russia's alleged historical rights to the region finds its audience perfectly. Moreover, Russians manage to use the German period and past without mentioning the German state itself.
This is especially evident in the example of the philosopher Kant, who simply "lived there" and whose name is now given to the Baltic Federal University in Kaliningrad. At the same time, all of the "Kantian places" are neglected and abandoned, just like the rest of the former East Prussia. It is significant that the minority Balts in the form of Memel (Klaipeda) Lithuanians (Lietuvininkai) and Latvians (Kursenieki) from the Curonian Spit, whose fate is so much in the focus of Russian propaganda, were killed by the transfer of this part of East Prussia to Moscow. They were deported to Germany along with the Prussian Germans, where they were almost completely assimilated in the diaspora and in isolation from their usual way of life.
A Besieged Fortress Or a Window to Europe?
The Kaliningrad region is extremely militarized. Since Soviet times, a huge military group has been concentrated there. Russians perceive this land as a bridgehead in Europe, surrounded by enemies. There are positions of Iskander missiles and modern air defense systems there. This is a factor of pressure on the EU and NATO. After all, the Kaliningrad region is cut off from Belarus, which is actually a vassal of Russia and exists with it in the format of the so-called Union State, by the narrow Suwalki corridor, 100 km wide. The border between Lithuania and Poland runs through it. Russian strategists and propagandists regularly frighten Poland, Lithuania, and NATO with the prospect of a military operation in the form of a counterattack from Belarus and the Kaliningrad region to defeat NATO forces and cut off the Baltic states from the entire Alliance.
With a subsequent operation to capture them. And after Russia's full-scale aggression against Ukraine on February 24, 2022, these plans did not look frivolous. NATO has to reckon with it. In the immediate vicinity of the Suwalki corridor, Poland is forming new divisions. Although Russia's war against Ukraine has made some adjustments. Now the Russian army is not perceived as invincible, and the constant participation of military units from the enclave in the war in Ukraine has, if not demilitarized the group, then significantly drained it of blood. We can say that a significant number of residents of the region have a different mentality from other Russians. They are based on a proud perception of themselves as the heirs of conquerors and, at the same time, proximity to real Europe, which for a long time provided certain economic benefits while movement to Poland and Lithuania was possible. The FSB even reported on the fight against "separatists who sought to tear the region away from Russia and annex it to Germany," nailing down the sprouts of possible regionalism...
The principle of inviolability of borders does not allow us to say that the Kaliningrad region can cease to be Russia. Especially since the Russian communist purges deprived the region of its indigenous population, the Germans. However, the Kremlin is shaping a new reality with its aggressive policy and calling into question the legitimacy of Russia's borders. On September 30, according to Putin's decree, the "reunification with Russia" of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson regions will be celebrated. These regions, as well as Crimea and Sevastopol, are Ukrainian, within Ukraine's internationally recognized borders and within the borders of Ukraine repeatedly recognized by Russia. But the Russian Federation has fully occupied Crimea and Sevastopol, partially occupied other lands, and announced their "incorporation into the Russian Federation." Of course, Ukraine will liberate its lands and people. But against this background, questions arise as to how inviolable the borders of Russia itself are now, since it is destroying the borders of others, which it has recognized. Hasn't the Kremlin launched a process of self-destruction? And the Baltic Republic project with Kaliningrad regionalists is already participating in the Forum of Free States of Post-Russia. And maybe this will finally give us a chance to demilitarize the South of the Baltic.