Kaliningrad

The Russians have poured over 10,000 troops, an air and missile defense system, and various warships into Kaliningrad as well perhaps as short-range nuclear-capable missiles. It’s all part of an overall Russian military buildup in recent years that, combined with NATO downsizing, gives Russia conventional military superiority in the Baltic. Whether Russia’s aim is strictly defensive, an aggressive move against the three former Soviet Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania), an attempt to humiliate and weaken NATO or some combination of the above is for the West a matter of debate—and of worry. How not, after Russian moves in Georgia, Crimea, Ukraine, and Syria? Military historians, however, might focus on the ironies.

Kaliningrad means “Kalinin City.” But who was Kalinin? Mikhail Kalinin, born a Russian peasant, was an old Bolshevik and member of Stalin’s inner circle who survived by keeping his head down. Kalinin was President of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, a relatively weak position, when he died of natural causes in 1946. Three large cities were named for him, but two have since been renamed; only the city on the Baltic retains the name of Kalinin. In that it is a reminder of a bygone era: Leningrad is gone, Stalingrad is gone, but Kaliningrad lives on, a relic of communism long past the Soviet Union’s sell-by date.

But that’s not the biggest irony of Russia’s base on the Baltic. Kaliningrad is the capital of a Connecticut-sized territory that the Soviets seized from Germany after World War II. Before 1945 the area was part of the German region of East Prussia. In those days Kaliningrad was called Königsberg, which means “King’s Hill.” The Teutonic Knights conquered it in the Middle Ages from natives who had traded far and wide—not only with the Vikings but also, in earlier times, with the Roman Empire.

Full article: Kaliningrad (Hoover Institution)

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