Vladimir Ryzhkov, writing in the Moscow Times:
Developments in Kaliningrad clearly demonstrate that the “power vertical” built over the past decade — a system for permitting unchecked bureaucratic abuses — is not only failing to effectively manage the regions but is, to the contrary, itself the cause of serious social and political conflicts that are making the system increasingly unstable. What’s more, the boundless appetite of monolithic state capitalism — the economic foundation of that “vertical” — has already exceeded the limits of what even the most long-suffering Russians can tolerate.
The paralysis of state systems and the limitless greed shown by officials for monopolistic businesses are manifested most severely on the periphery of the country — in Kaliningrad and Vladivostok. There, the population and the business community pay a much higher price than the national average for maintaining parasitic bureaucracy and monopolies. This is a result of their geographic remoteness and, in the case of Kaliningrad, the fact that it is a distant exclave surrounded by foreign countries that are EU member states.
Secession in Kaliningrad and Vladivostok?
The indispensable Paul Goble reports that the residents of Kaliningrad, Russia are thinking thoughts of secession these days.
Kaliningrad presents a really fascinating paradox. Compared to most regions of Russia, the residents of Kalingrad are rich. But compared to their neighbors Poland and Lithuania (the Kaliningrad region is not contiguous to Russia), they are dirt poor, as are the vast majority of all Russians. And Kaliningraders don’t compare themselves to their remote and slovenly Russian brothers, but to their neighbors, so they’re hopping mad that the Kremlin has bungled their governance so badly and they are taking to the streets to make their displeasure very plain indeed.
According to Vladimir Pribylovsky, president of the Panorama Information and Research Center: “It is perfectly obvious why: the governor is bad and the Kremlin runs our affairs badly as well. The Kaliningraders want to live just like the Poles do.”
And, because of their proximity to the West and their isolation from Russia, it turns out that Kaliningraders are willing to stand up to the Putin regime in brazen acts of defiance that have rocked the Kremlin to its core.
Ariel Cohen, a Senior Research Fellow in Russian and Eurasian Studies and International Energy Security at the Shelby and Catherine Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation, writing on the Heritage Foundation website:
The day after Barack Obama won the 2008 U.S. presidential election, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev announced the first real test for the U.S. President-elect. In his State of the Federation speech, Medvedev threatened to station Iskander short-range nuclear-capable missiles in the Kaliningrad exclave if the U.S. proceeds with deploying anti-missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Medvedev softened his rhetoric following discussions with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, instead offering to hold off on the missile deployment in exchange for U.S. participation in a European security conference and if, as Sarkozy put it, there is “no more talk of anti-missile protection systems” until the conference.
Sarkozy later revised his statement, admitting that Poland and the Czech Republic have a sovereign right to pursue missile defense. On November 17, however, NATO, of which France is a member, reiterated its support for a planned U.S. missile shield in Europe–after Sarkozy had said it would bring no extra security to the Continent. A NATO spokeswoman said the alliance’s position–formulated at the Bucharest Summit in April 2008–had not changed. It was at the Bucharest Summit that NATO leaders, including Sarkozy, endorsed U.S. plans to deploy the missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.
The Obama Administration should not give in to Russian threats. If it does, it will signal that the new U.S. President-elect can be pressured on other issues. Even if Obama were open to the idea of delaying or canceling the deployment, to do so following Russian missile threats would be an unmistakable sign of weakness.
Why are you Silent, Mr. Obama?
The new cold war is well underway, and Dima Medvedev’s Russia is consumed with a frenzied desire to provoke the Americans into a costly full-scale arms race Russia can ill afford. No sooner had it been announced that the U.S. would undertake a massive program to upgrade its nuclear arsenal, obviously a direct response to Russian threats which have included buzzing the Americans with nuclear bombers, than Medvedev was threatening to place Russian offensive missiles on the border of the Baltics, in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. This makes the missile defense system now being installed in Eastern Europe, of course, all the more essential. Medvedev declined to congratulate president-elect Barack Obama, a clear signal that relations are about to get even frostier with the world’s only superpower. Obama snubbed him right back.
And yet, Obama remains silent about Kaliningrad. He is receiving national security briefings on a daily basis, yet we still have not heard one single word from him on Medvedev’s “missiles of November.” No sooner did we congratulate Mr. Obama on his electoral victory that he already has disappointed us. We feel betrayed. When another Democratic president, John Kennedy, was confronted by a missile provocation, he responded swiftly with condemnation and a U.S. military response. Obama has been tested, and he has failed. John McCain, America’s leading policymaker on Russia, cannot speak out for fear of being accused of divisiveness in the wake of the electoral results. Obama must speak out, and he must do it now. The Washington Post attempts to give Obama cover, arguing he can just ignore the problem and it will go away, that all Putin wants is attention. That’s naive nonsense, exactly the kind that gave us Josef Stalin.