Kaliningrad neighbors snubbed by Kremlin

  • 2005-06-29
  • By Milda Seputyte
Lithuania's political establishment reacted bitterly after not being invited to Kaliningrad's 750th anniversary celebration. The ceremony, planned for next week, will be attended by Germany's chancellor and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Poland was also not invited, and the diplomatic corps of both countries, which border the Kaliningrad exclave, have regarded the snubs as a slap in the face.

"A situation like this can hardly be amended by inviting the leaders of the neighboring states with only a week until the event," Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis said.

"If German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Russian President Vladimir Putin are indeed going to take part in the celebration without the participation of the nearest neighbors and are being awarded honorary PhDs from Kaliningrad University, this will be a significant milestone in the relationship between Moscow and Berlin," the minister reasoned.

"We will study this sign closely and respond," he said.

There were reports that German diplomats inquired as to why Lithuania and Poland's presidents were not invited, but an answer from their Russian colleagues was not forthcoming. It is possible that the Kremlin is irked by the two countries' insistent requests that Russia acknowledge World War II and post war crimes committed by the Soviet Union, including the Katyn forest massacre of some 20,000 Poles.

President Valdas Adamkus, commemorating his first year in office this week, admitted that it wasn't a good sign that the heads of neighboring states had not been invited to the anniversary festivities. Kaliningrad, formerly known as Konigsberg, was founded by the Teutonic knights in 1255 as a redoubt in its conquest of the pagan Baltic tribes.

Parliamentary Chairman Arturas Paulauskas implied that negligence to invite Lithuanian and Polish presidents was intentional. "I think that this wasn't an accidental step, most likely this is part of Russia's overall foreign politics," Paulauskas said. "We are neighbors living next to Kaliningrad, and ones that have a lot of economic and cultural ties. But we will attentively watch the situation. Although not taking part, we will congratulate the people of Kaliningrad with their anniversary."

Raimundas Lopata, the director of the Institute of International Relations and Political Science, was less diplomatic in his assessment. He regarded the demonstrative snub as part of the Kremlin's tactics to play Kaliningrad as a trump in foreign policy.

"After analyzing the latest developments in the Kremlin's actions, it becomes obvious that Putin has decided to hold something over Berlin. In my opinion, we may be witnessing attempts to once again form the Moscow-Berlin geopolitical axis, which historically proved to be quite notorious," Lopata said.

Meanwhile, three Lithuanian MPs who have been invited to the celebration are suddenly in an awkward situation. Unaware of the higher stakes, Parliament made an advance decision to send foreign affairs committee chairman Justinas Karosas and liberal centrist MPs Algis Caplikas and Vytautas Bogusis to the anniversary.

Caplikas has consulted the Foreign Ministry as to what to do. Valionis said that it would be better if the MPs did not attend the event. "However, the minister said it would not be a tragedy if we chose to go," Caplikas said.

Social Democrat Karosas is settled on his travel plans, since ties between Parliament and Kalinigrad's Duma (regional legislature) were rather good, with Kaliningrad lawmakers being more attentive to their Lithuanian colleagues. Karosas said that, because he did not know the motives behind Russia's decision, it was difficult to comment on Moscow's position.

Lithuania and the Kaliningrad region share a 300-kilometer border and have ancient ties.

The historic territory in the present Kaliningrad region bore the name of Minor Lithuania because Lithuanian-speaking Baltic tribes lived in the territory in the beginning of the last millennium. Lithuanians made up the majority of the area's population until the 18th century.

Although Lithuania has deep ties with Kaliningrad, the country has never administered the region, which for centuries was subordinate to Prussia and Germany but was transferred to the Soviet Union at the 1945 Potsdam Conference after WWII.