The territory of the Kaliningrad Oblast is that of the northern part of historical East Prussia (German: Nord-Ostpreussen), which was an exclave of Germany from World War I until 1945. That year, it was occupied by the Soviet Union, whose armies remained until the war ended. The region was later annexed to the Soviet Union under border changes promulgated in the Potsdam Agreement, when it was attached to the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Most of its indigenous German population were killed or fled westward to what would become West Germany during the last months of the war. The rest were expelled between 1944 and 1950. Russian settlers were moved in, and the population has been majority Russian ever since.
The oblast forms the westernmost part of Russia; it has no land connection to the rest of the country. Since its creation after World War II, it has been a Russian exclave, first of the Russian SFSR and then of the Russian Federation. The fall of the Soviet Union left it isolated from the rest of Russia. It is surrounded by Poland on the south, Lithuania on the east and north, and the Baltic Sea on the west. Visa-free travel to the main part of Russia is only possible by sea or air. This political isolation became more pronounced when Lithuania and Poland both became members of the European Union and NATO as well as entering the Schengen Zone, which means that the oblast is now surrounded by territories affiliated with these institutions.
The oblast's largest city and administrative center is Kaliningrad (formerly Königsberg), which has historical significance as both a major city of the historical state of Prussia and the capital of the former German province of East Prussia. After World War II, East Prussia was divided between the USSR and Poland, and Königsberg was renamed after the Soviet Head of State Mikhail Kalinin.
Currently, Kaliningrad Oblast is one of Russia's best performing regional economies, bolstered by a low manufacturing tax rate as set by its "Special Economic Zone" [SEZ] status, which was issued by Moscow. As of 2006, one in three televisions in Russia are made in Kaliningrad. The territory's population is one of the few in Russia that is expected to show strong growth during the early 21st century.
The site now occupied by Kaliningrad was previously the site of the East Prussian city of Königsberg. Founded in 1255 by the Teutonic Knights on the site of the Old Prussian settlement of Twangste (Tuwangste, Tvankste), the city was named in honor of the Bohemian King Ottokar II. Through the periods of Germanization and colonization over the following centuries, German culture became dominant, with sizable Polish and Lithuanian minorities. During World War II, the city of Königsberg was largely destroyed.
The territory of what is now Kaliningrad Oblast was inhabited during the Middle Ages by tribes of Old Prussians in the western part, and Lithuanians in the eastern part, divided by the Pregolya and Alna Rivers. The Teutonic Knights conquered the region and established a monastic state. On the foundations of a destroyed Prussian settlement known as Tvanksta, the Order founded the major city of Königsberg (modern Kaliningrad). Germans and Poles resettled the territory and assimilated the indigenous Old Prussians. The Lithuanian-inhabited areas became known as Lithuania Minor. In 1525, Grand Master Albert of Brandenburg secularized the Prussian branch of the Teutonic Order and established himself as the sovereign of the Duchy of Prussia, a Polish fief, later inherited by the Margravate of Brandenburg. During the Seven Years' War it was occupied by the Russian Empire. The region was reorganized into the Province of East Prussia within the Kingdom of Prussia in 1773.
East Prussia was an important center of German culture. Many important figures, such as Immanuel Kant and E. T. A. Hoffmann, came from this region. The cities of Kaliningrad Oblast, despite being heavily damaged during World War II and thereafter, still contain some typical German architecture, in styles such as the Jugendstil, showcasing the rich German history and cultural importance of the area. The Lithuanian-speaking community in East Prussia declined due to organic Germanization and cultural assimilation. By the early 20th century Lithuanians made up a majority only in rural parts of the far northeast corner of East Prussia (Memelland and Lithuania Minor). The rest of the area, with the exception of the Slavic Masurians in southeast Prussia, was overwhelmingly German-speaking.
The Memel Territory (Klaipėda region), formerly part of northeastern East Prussia, was annexed by Lithuania in 1923. In 1938, Nazi Germany radically altered about a third of the place names of this area, replacing names of Old Prussian or Lithuanian origin with newly invented German names. Slavic and Jewish populations under Nazi Germany were classified as subhuman and were the target of a campaign of genocide by the German state, with the eventual goal of their extermination.
At the end of World War II in 1945, the city became part of the Soviet Union pending the final determination of territorial questions at the peace settlement (as part of the Russian SFSR) as agreed upon by the Allies at the Potsdam Conference:
VI. CITY OF KÖNIGSBERG AND THE ADJACENT AREA
Königsberg was renamed Kaliningrad in 1946 after the death of Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR Mikhail Kalinin, one of the original Bolsheviks. The survivors of the German population were expelled, and the city was repopulated with Soviet citizens. The German language was replaced with the Russian language. The city was rebuilt, and, as the westernmost territory of the USSR, the Kaliningrad Oblast became a strategically important area during the Cold War. The Soviet Baltic Fleet was headquartered in the city during the 1950s. Because of its strategic importance, Kaliningrad was closed to foreign visitors.
In 1957, an agreement was signed and later came into force which delimited the border between Poland and the Soviet Union.
The Kaliningrad Oblast is an exclave, geographically separated from the rest of Russia. This isolation was enhanced by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 when Lithuania became an independent country and even more when both Poland and Lithuania became members of NATO and subsequently the European Union in 2004. All military and civilian land links between the region and the rest of Russia have to pass through members of NATO and the EU. Special travel arrangements for the territory's inhabitants have been made through the Facilitated Transit Document (FTD) and Facilitated Rail Transit Document (FRTD).
In July 2005, the 750-year jubilee of the city was widely celebrated.
In July 2007, Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov declared that if US-controlled missile defense systems were deployed in Poland, then nuclear weapons might be deployed in Kaliningrad. On November 5, 2008, Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev said that installing missiles in Kaliningrad was almost a certainty. These plans were suspended, however, in January 2009.
But during late 2011, a long range Voronezh-DM radar Voronezh radar was commissioned to monitor missile launches within about 6,000 km. It is situated in the settlement of Pionersky (formerly German Neukuhren) in Kaliningrad Oblast.
During World War II, Soviet troops reached the border of East Prussia on August 29, 1944. In January 1945, Soviet forces overran all of East Prussia except the area around Königsberg. Many Germans fled west at this time. During the last days of the war, over two million Germans were evacuated by sea. The remaining German population was deported after the war, and the area was repopulated primarily by Russians and, to a lesser extent, by Ukrainians and Belarusians.
VI. CITY OF KÖNIGSBERG AND THE ADJACENT AREA
In 1957, an agreement was signed and later came into force which delimited the boundary between Poland and the Soviet Union,
According to some accounts from the 1950s and 1960s, the Soviet government had planned to make the rest of the area a part of the Lithuanian SSR immediately after World War II. The area was administered by the planning committee of the LSSR, although it had its own Communist Party committee. However, the leadership of the Lithuanian SSR (especially Antanas Sniečkus) refused to take the territory, mainly because of its devastation during the war. Some modern nationalistic Lithuanian authors say that the reason for the refusal was the Lithuanians' concern that there might be as many Russians as Lithuanians within the Lithuanian SSR. Instead the region was added as an exclave to the Russian SFSR, and since 1946 it has been known as Kaliningrad Oblast. According to some historians, Joseph Stalin created it as an oblast separate from the LSSR because it further separated the Baltic states from the West. Names of the cities, towns, rivers, and other geographical features were changed to newly created Russian names.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the independence of the Baltic states, Kaliningrad Oblast has been separated from the rest of Russia by other countries instead of by other Soviet republics. After 1991, some ethnic Germans began to return to the area, such as Volga Germans from other parts of Russia and Kazakhstan, especially after Germany raised the requirements for people from the former Soviet Union to be accepted as ethnic Germans and have a "right of return." The territory's economic situation was badly affected by its geographic isolation and the significant reduction in the size of the Russian military garrison, which had previously been one of the major employers and helped the local economy. The situation was further complicated when neighboring nations imposed strict border controls when they joined the European Union. Russian proposals for visa-free travel between the EU and Kaliningrad have so far been rejected by the EU. Travel arrangements, based on the Facilitated Transit Document (FTD) and Facilitated Rail Transit Document (FRTD) have been made.
Recently, the situation has begun to change, albeit slowly. Both Germany and Lithuania have renewed contact with Kaliningrad Oblast, through town twinning and other projects. This has helped to promote interest in the history and culture of the East Prussian and Lietuvininkai communities.