VILNIUS - Russian President Vladimir Putin praised the Kaliningrad Oblast governor's idea of inviting ethnic Russians from the Baltic countries to resettle in the exclave.
"I have heard nothing about such an initiative, but I support it, once it has been made," Putin told reporters Dec. 16 in the resort town of Sochi.
"We shouldn't overdo it, in order not to worsen the situation," he added, apparently referring to what might happen if the number of minorities 's i.e., noncitizens 's in the Baltics were to drastically fall vis-a-vis the countries' core nationalities.
Kaliningrad Oblast Governor Georgy Boos, who recently took up the office, said last month that his administration planned to boost the region's population to 5 million in 10 years, particularly by enticing Russian-speaking minorities from the Baltics.
Boos, who was appointed by the Kremlin, opined that Kaliningrad needed to establish the average European density of population in the exclave, which borders Poland and Lithuania. In cooperation with major companies, Boos said he was planning to invite residents of Russia's overpopulated areas to resettle in the region.
Currently the area has less than 950,000 residents. Some Russian politicians have said the exclave, which used to form the northern third of Eastern Prussia, should have at least 2 million residents. Many of the region's current residents resettled from northern Kazakhstan in the last 15 years when that country gained its independence.
Commenting on the proposal, Putin said, "The Foreign Ministry conducts active politics. This is subtle work, but we still intend to do our best also in the future to stand for our compatriots' interests."
It is unclear whether many Baltic Russians would jump at the chance to move to what is a considerably poorer region, even if they would be given full citizenship and rights.
Vladimir Prudnikov, a Kaliningrad-based representative of the United Russia party, told the Baltic News Service that ethnic Russians in Latvia have shown "great interest" in moving.
"But the process has only been announced politically, and it will take time to make preparations under the laws and create conditions for people," he said.
"Our task is to create conditions so that they would be able to return. The economy is growing, and we need a labor force 's so we will build houses, create new jobs and people will be able to choose for themselves where to live," said Prudnikov.
Indeed, the Kaliningrad region is a free economic zone and enjoys tax privileges 's e.g., a significant discount on VAT 's that other Russian regions don't have. For manufacturers such as Lithuania's Snaige, Kaliningrad thus represents the best opportunity to gain exposure to the Russian market.
Prudnikov said the appeal in moving to Kaliningrad for Baltic Russians was "a normal process in any developed country." Russia, like the Baltics, is beginning to experience a shortage of labor in certain sectors. "We do not have unemployment. In fact, anyone willing can find a job in Kaliningrad to their liking," he said.
He added that Kaliningrad would be ready to accept people from Latvia in two years when the construction of two new housing developments, accommodating about 150,000 people, are completed.
However, so far only a political decision has been made, and it is not yet clear whether the project will be financed by the state or the regional administration.
Russian Ambassador to Latvia Viktor Kalyuzhny said that Kaliningrad was "becoming an active partner to the Baltics, especially after replacement of the region's governor." So far, he added, it had been practically impossible to implement the immigration law in Russia in the absence of a proper mechanism.
Boos' suggestion offers a way to put this law into life, said the Russian ambassador to Latvia.