While much publicity has been given recently to the alleged new deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in Kaliningrad—hotly denied by Moscow—the problems of Russia's Baltic enclave have been exercising the minds of the EU for a while now. [see CER's coverage in last week's issue]
This week, the EU commissioner for external relations, Englishman Chris Patten, reinforced Sweden's "Northern Dimension" initiative by engaging Russia in a discussion of Kaliningrad, as well as addressing problems around the Barents Sea.
Island of pollution
Kaliningrad worries its neighbours because of its manifold environmental, economic and social problems: nuclear waste and raw sewage pumped into the Baltic, a broken economy, soaring rates of HIV and tuberculosis infection and high levels of crime and emigration. When neighbouring Poland and Lithuania join the EU, Kaliningrad will become a Russian enclave within the EU. This poses problems relating to visas, border controls, transport links and possibly also energy supply.
Kaliningrad was described by Giles Whittell in The Times (18 January) as a "crime-polluted enclave where time stood still." It benefits little from its proximity to thriving Gdansk. Citizens "live in a 'special economic zone' that has attracted little official business, so they survive unofficially, chiefly by smuggling vodka into Poland," wrote Whittell.
President Putin seems to have two options for the future of Kaliningrad: building it up as a military bastion, or seeking to exploit its Baltic and European location by making it a special zone of economic co-operation. No prizes for guessing which route the Financial Times would prefer. On 17 January a leading article in the FT called on Putin to choose the latter path and allow Kaliningrad to act as an economic avant-garde for the rest of Russia: "Moscow should be daring... It should become a test-bed for economic development and a showcase for other regions. That would be one way of turning a problem into a solution."
A military bastion?
But maybe Putin has already chosen the military bastion route. Of more concern to Russia than EU enlargement will be Lithuania's entry into NATO, following Poland's example, which could happen as soon as next year (Poland joined in 1999).
If Russia has, indeed, moved its nuclear arsenal into Kaliningrad, this may cause an early flashpoint between Russian President Vladimir Putin and America's incoming Bush administration. And if Putin took such action in order to dissuade NATO from welcoming the Baltic states as new members, initial reaction from Washington last week suggested the plan may backfire, only encouraging a more hawk-like new administration to push ahead sooner.
This may lead to major tension. As Anatol Lieven wrote in "Republican abroad," his forecast of the Bush presidency in the December 2000 issue of the British political affairs monthly Prospect:
One of the greatest dangers for the next four years is that, in a scrabble to attract every scrap of ethnic support, Bush may commit himself not only to NMD [National Missile Defence] but to NATO enlargement to the Baltic states too. At this point, relations with Russia would probably collapse...
The EU's northern dimension
Sweden is keen to promote the EU's "Northern Dimension," a Baltic initiative which seeks to address regional issues, including Kaliningrad. Before assuming the presidency of the EU on 1 January 2001, and indeed before American sources broke news of Russia's supposed nuclear deployment, Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson had already called for an EU programme to help Kaliningrad alleviate some of its problems (Financial Times, 14 December 2000).
Sweden's foreign minister, Anna Lindh, wrote a joint article with Chris Patten calling for a renewed emphasis on the Northern Dimension. It was the Finnish EU presidency which had first introduced the programme but to little effect at the time. Lindh and Patten described it as "just the sort of area where the EU should be cutting its foreign policy teeth" (Financial Times, 20 December 2000).
Ian Black noted in The Guardian on 15 January that in the expanding EU the Union's centre of gravity will not only move eastwards but also northwards. Whether this particular Baltic initiative will outlast Sweden's six-month presidency is uncertain, but, surely, once enlargement eventually begins, the EU's fulcrum must shift.
With Bush about to assume the White House and both the EU and NATO planning enlargement, Patten clearly sees this as an important time to work on relations with Russia. This week, he was addressing problematic areas in EU countries' relations with Russia.
On 18 January, The Times reported that Patten had persuaded the European Commission to tackle the troubles facing Kaliningrad: "He called on the EU, Poland and Lithuania to engage Russia in a debate on the opportunities and challenges that the enlargement process brings to Kaliningrad and neighbouring countries." He proposed that the EU should fund improvements at the enclave's 23 border crossings and also devise a workable visa regime, with the aim of facilitating local cross-border trade.
Patten in Moscow
Patten arrived in Moscow on 18 January for talks with Igor Ivanov, Russia's foreign minister, and also turned his attention to the environmental nightmare that has developed in the Barents Sea and the other waters surrounding the Kola peninsula in Russia's far northwest. Here, there are more than 300 nuclear reactors, including those in numerous abandoned nuclear submarines and thousands of spent nuclear fuel rods.
Russia is seeking EU aid to help raise the Kursk submarine, which lies in the Barents Sea; but with Baltic countries concerned about pollution of their land and sea, they will surely insist on a Russian cleanup as a quid pro quo. "Mr Patten said the problem of nuclear safety in the far north was the most 'dramatic' of all the issues on which Brussels and Moscow should seek enhanced co-operation during Sweden's term in the EU presidency" (The Guardian, 19 January).
Is NATO worried about war crimes charges?
The issue of depleted uranium (DU) continued to command press attention, but, fortunately, this week the focus had at last shifted to include the effects on local populations.
Robert Fisk, who has campaigned on the issue for a decade, followed up his exclusive of 13 January from Bratunac, Bosnia with another major piece in The Independent on 17 January in which he all but accused NATO of "committing a heinous war crime."
He claimed that the reason NATO had no evidence of the harm caused by the after-effects of DU weapons was that it has deliberately avoided seeking any evidence. To demonstrate the point, he even printed his own telephone number in Sarajevo and invited any NATO doctor to call him and arrange a visit to a 12-year-old girl in Bratunac, who had played with shrapnel after NATO bombing six years ago and now appears to have leukaemia. "However," he added, "I expect no calls."
It is not only NATO that wishes to prevent research into the effects of DU, according to Daniel McCrory, writing in The Times on 17 January. The Bosnian Serb government has allegedly ordered their own doctors to stop their investigations, afraid of panicking Serb soldiers and "being blamed for visiting this plague on its own people by the ruinous wars with its Balkan neighbours."
In an accompanying article, John Phillips and James Robson remarked that only now has the UN decided to put up "Keep Out" signs next to the bombed-out tanks on which Kosovar children have been playing for the past 18 months since bombing stopped.
Phillips and Robson reported how a Mr Beqir Rraci, who lives just next to a destroyed tank in Klina, Kosovo, was unimpressed by the reassuring words of Bernard Kouchner, outgoing UN chief administrator in Kosovo: "'There is no real risk,' he declared—but his visit and the face masks worn by the Italian troops around him were enough to sow fear in 74-year-old Mr Rraci's mind."
Oliver Craske, 19 January 2001
- Archive of Oliver Craske's articles in CER
- Browse through the CER eBookstore for electronic books
- Buy English-language books on Central and Eastern Europe through CER
- Return to CER front page