Staunton, March 11 – If Moscow doesn’t want to “lose” Kaliningrad, it needs to promote that exclave’s development, and the best way to do that is to make it an aviation hub linking Russia and Europe together by opening its skies to European carriers, according to Vladislav Inozemtsev, director of the Moscow Center for Research on Post-Industrial Society
In an article in the current issue of the Kaliningrad weekly “Dvornik,” Inozemtsev says that past Moscow efforts have failed: the special economic zone created for Kaliningrad has been “dismantled” because of pressure from lobbyists and federal subsidies to the region amount to only 42 percent of the taxes that region sends to the center (dvornik.ru/issue/866/28895/).
Surrounded by the much more prosperous countries of Lithuania and Poland, Kaliningrad residents “ever less feel themselves to be Russians and ever more envy the Europeans.” Any program to change that will require Moscow to combine the advantages of its ‘Russianness’ with the profits of its ‘Europeanness.’”
The best way to do that, Inozemtsev argues, is to make Kaliningrad a transportation hub involving both air routes and highways. Over the last decade and despite the economic crisis, air travel and air cargo have continued to rise, but this “boom has passed by Russia,” where fewer people are flying within the country than in 1991. And Aeroflot’s profits today consist entirely of the fees foreign airlines pay for overlying Russian territory.
Kaliningrad could help change all of that. But for that to happen, there would have to be a new airport built with private money and that airport would have to be open to foreign carriers which would have to be granted the right to use Kaliningrad as a hub and fly further into and out of the Russian Federation.
Russian airlines and their allies in the bureaucracy would naturally oppose this, but they would be overridden if Russia’s senior leadership recognized how much profit such an arrangement could bring in and how much these arrangements could contribute to preventing Kaliningrad from drifting away from Moscow.
Private capital could easily finance a new airport, Inozemtsev argues, if investors were assured that European carriers would be able to use it rather than be frozen out as they largely are at present. “In essence, the European ‘open skies’ rule must be extended to the Russia Federation” for those carriers making use of Kaliningrad.
The airport could be made even more attractive as an idea if airlines scheduled layovers of significant length and then local businesses provided hotels, casinos, and the like for passengers and if such passengers were allowed to make use of this hub without having to get a special visa.
Kaliningrad’s attractiveness could be further enhanced if a contemporary highway were built from Lithuania to Poland through the region and if its users enjoyed extra-territorial status much as “at one time” those who drove between the Federal Republic of Germany and West Berlin across the German Democratic Republic did. And ultimately, Inozemtsev says, there could be a similar highway between Lithuania and Belarus with the same rules.
“If the Russian authorities do not want to lose this Baltic enclave which was won by the blood of our ancestors,” Inozemtsev says, “they must create such a mechanism” to promote entrepreneurialism in Kaliningrad and do so with private funds. If they do take that step, he continues, they will create “a real ‘window on Europe’ for contemporary Russia.”