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Kaliningrad was (and still is) Russia's only (non-trivial*) exclave. Why did Stalin and the Soviet leaders transfer Kaliningrad to the Russian SFSR rather than the Lithuanian SSR (with which Kaliningrad was contiguous)?

My thoughts:

  • Soviet leaders believed the Soviet Union would last indefinitely (and so for strategic purposes, it hardly mattered if Kaliningrad was in the Lithuanian SSR or the Russian SFSR).
  • They could not have known that a mere half-century later, Lithuania would become Russia's enemy.
  • And thus, for administrative purposes, it would surely make sense to have Kaliningrad administered under Lithuania, rather than have an awkward Russian exclave. (We know for example that even Crimea, which is linked by bridge to Russia, would be transferred to Ukraine in 1954 because of "the integral character of the economy, the territorial proximity and the close economic and cultural ties between the Crimea Province and the Ukrainian SSR". This argument, I presume, would've been a fortiori true of Kaliningrad and the Lithuanian SSR.)

But clearly the Soviet leaders did otherwise, so how did their thinking differ from my above thoughts?


*Technically, Russia also has another exclave, namely Sankovo-Medvezhye, which is completely surrounded by Belarus (and is hence also an enclave). However, this second exclave is trivial in that it is (i) unpopulated; (ii) 4.5 km² in size; and (iii) only 800 m away from the "proper" border.

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    FWIW this exclave used to be part of Germany. It could just as well have been given to Poland, too. – Denis de Bernardy Feb 2 '18 at 6:25
  • @DenisdeBernardy: Yup. I didn't address that point because I took it for granted that the Soviet Union wanted to gobble up as much territory as possible (and give as little as possible to Poland). – user20311 Feb 2 '18 at 6:31
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    Kaliningrad was (and still is) Russia's only exclave That's factually wrong, Russia has one exclave in Belarus – Bregalad Feb 2 '18 at 9:08
  • @Bregalad: You're right. I have now amended my question accordingly. – user20311 Feb 3 '18 at 1:26
  • Technically, Kaliningrad was not placed under Russian SFSR, Königsberg was: the historic capital of the Teutonic Knights, part of Prussia for 700 years and later of the German Empire was given to the Soviet Union in 1946 as part of World War II reparations. It was heavily damaged and its population fled or was removed by force when it became a Russian city, renamed Kaliningrad after the name of the chief of the Præsidium of the Supreme Soviet. Its population by then was mostly Russian speaking, which prompted Lithuania to refuse its inclusion when later proposed by Khrushev. – chqrlie Feb 3 '18 at 16:25
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Lithuania fell under Soviet occupation in 1940, but the Soviets were promptly evicted by Operation Barbarossa. So in practice, the Lithuanian SSR was established only in late 1944, after the Baltic Offensive. It would have been stranger for Moscow to entrust East Prussia to this fledgling government, who would've had their hands full setting up shop in Lithuania.

For reference, Memel was later returned to Lithuania in 1948. So the question is probably, why not transfer the rest of the exclave after the dusts have settled? Well, as you noted in the question, Crimea was transferred to Ukraine only in 1954, under Khrushchev.

What you might not be aware of is that a similar offer was made to give Kaliningrad to Lithuania. However, the Lithuanian leader Antanas Sniečkus had the foresight to decline. By then, the German population had been expelled and replaced with Russian colonists. The Lithuanians wisely refused to adopt a large, and potentially problematic, minority.

See for instance, the troubles faced by Ukraine today.

And in private, Lithuanian officials assert "what would we do with close to one million Russian speakers?" Recall that during the Soviet Era, Lithuanian Communists loyal to Moscow rejected Khruschev's offer to place Kaliningrad under Lithuanian authority for the same reason.

Krickus, Richard J. The Kaliningrad Question. Rowman & Littlefield, 2002.

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