The oblast forms the most western part of Russia, and it has no land connection to the rest of the country. Since its creation, it has been an exclave of the Russian SFSR and then of the Russian Federation. The fall of the Soviet Union left it isolated. It is surrounded by Poland, Lithuania, and the Baltic Sea. 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 surrounded by territories affiliated with these institutions as well.
The oblast's largest city and administrative center is Kaliningrad (formerly known as 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.
The territory of the Kaliningrad Oblast coincides with that of the northern part of historical East Prussia (German: Nord-Ostpreussen), which was an exclave of Germany from World War I until 1945. In that year, it was occupied by the Soviet Union and annexed according to the Potsdam Agreement. It was attached to the Russian SFSR. Most of its indigenous German population fled westward to what would become West Germany during the last months of the war. The rest were expelled during 1944-1950. Russian settlers moved in, and the population has been majority Russian ever since.
Currently it 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. Its population is one of the few in Russia which is expected to show strong growth.
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 Minor Lithuania). The rest of the area (with the exception of the Slavic Masurians in South-East Prussia), was overwhelmingly German-speaking. However in 1918 Prussians who spoke German joined Lithuanian speaking Prussians and claimed that all Prussia should join with Lithuania because the majority of the area's inhabitants were of Lithuanian-Prussian ethnic descent. In November 1918 they signed a declaration of independence from Germany and unification with Lithuania.
The Memel Territory (Klaipėda region), formerly part of northeastern East Prussia, was annexed by Lithuania in 1923 after World War I. 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.
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 KOENIGSBERG 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 is now separated from the rest of Russia by other countries instead of by other Soviet republics. Some ethnic Germans began to return to the area, such as Volga Germans from other parts of Russia and Kazakhstan, especially after Germany stopped granting free right of return to ethnic Germans from the former Soviet Union. 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), especially 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.