While people arrive inKaliningrad(注1), an unsmiling policeman demands to see their documents.
"This isn't Russia. It's Kaliningrad," he says grimly(注2).
Outside the terminal, the cartel operating taxis for the 30-minute journeysintostown want to be paid in euros, the currency of most members of the European Union.(注3)
"The airport administration requires that we quote fares in euros or even dollars, but not rubles,"(注4) says a driver lounging against the hood of his second-hand, Western-made car.(注5)
The 10,000-square-kilometer territory wedged between Lithuania and Poland on the Baltic Sea may be technically Russian, but its location and business links make it European,(注6) a preference that can only increase once its neighbors join the European Union, as expected shortly.
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(注7).
For the million residents of the Russian Baltic enclave(注8) of Kaliningrad, who will be completely surrounded by the new superstate(注9), the threat of isolation poses both a crisis and an opportunity.
Until now, the 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.(注10)
But as the collision with Europe looms, the area has movedsintosthe spotlight.(注11) 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 comesintoseffect 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.(注12)
"It is time for radical departures(注13)," says Sergei Pasko, leader of the independence-minded Baltic Republican Party.(注14) "If Moscow cannot solve our problems ?and it cannot ?then we must turn to Europe." 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 be 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.(注15) Under Pasko's plan, Kaliningrad would remain nominally Russian, but local authority would take strict control over all immigration and movement through the territory.
Border control, however, is a degree of sovereignty the Kremlin is unlikely to concede. Presently the Kremlin appointed a nationalist parliamentarian, Dmitri Rogozin, as extraordinary presidential emissary to Kaliningrad.
Whatever new arrangements are made with the EU for residents of Kaliningrad, President Putin has said the interests of other Russians must not be harmed. He wants a 260-kilometre rail and road transit corridor through Lithuania to Belarus and Russia proper to enable Russians to travel freely to and from the enclave.(注16)But Lithuania and Poland are expected to make it harder for Russians to get visas, a move intended to please their new EU partners.(注17)
Russia insists that there is plenty of room to talk a deal with European leaders. "With good will on both sides, Kaliningrad could become a region of cooperation, that could show the way toward integration of all Russia with Europe one day," says Mikhail Tsikel, deputy governor of Kaliningrad. "But the freedom of some cannot be bought at the expense of others. We need a solution that will allow all Russian people, goods, and services to move freely between parts of Russia."
This plan would enable Moscow to continue supplying and managing Kaliningrad as part of Russia. But the EU has resisted this idea, fearing that the corridor would become a path for refugees, criminals, and contraband flowing from EurasiasintosEurope.(注18)
However, Kaliningraders think grandly of their territory as a potential Hong Kong, and Russia's bridge to the West. They fear the EU will restrict their travel and hamper their trade. They want to be able to travel without visas or, at worst, be able to get them easily.
Many Kaliningraders say they welcome Moscow's interest in their region's development, but that they do not want any deal that curtails their Westernized lifestyle. Three-quarters of Kaliningrad's business ventures are with neighboring countries, not Russia. And residents have been allowed visa- and even passport-free travel to nearby states; many of them travel constantly to Europe, but rarely visit Russia.
But the EU fears this would make Kaliningrad a stepping stone to the West. Already feeling besieged by huge numbers of unwanted migrants arriving every day, Western Europe trembles at the thought of 145 million Russians possibly being able to gain quick access to their countries through its Baltic enclave.(注19)And it would not be just Russians, but anyone who had managed to make it to Russia.
If talks with the EU on Kaliningrad's status do not go well, one unsettling(注20) possibility is direct presidential rule(注21). The Kremlin must find a way to get the EU to compromise while refraining from doing anything that might encourage separatist sentiment in the enclave.
"Putin has said he will try and prevent Lithuania and Poland from introducing visas. But the population here does not doubt that this will happen. If Russia doesn't do something, it will lose Kaliningrad ?not now, but in 10 or 20 years." Some analysts predict.