Meanwhile in russia...

The Minor Significance of Russian/Kaliningrad Border on World Geopolitics

03.Jun.02 - Putin has been negotiating with the EU over the Kaliningrad border, but not really because of any concern about freedom of movements for Russians. The Schengen zone makes it difficult and expensive for Russians to move across borders and Poland's imposing a visa regime next year (perhaps sooner), will only make matters worse.

As is well known, visa requirements for Russians to pass through Lithuania and Poland means that Russians from Kaliningrad will not be able to travel overland to other parts of Russia. This will mean that political pressure can be put on Kaliningrad as residents feel a growing isolation and alienation from mainland Russia. Visa regimes can be used as an instrument of control to force governments to adopt neoliberal economics, to force them to sign various agreements (i.e. trade agreements), to forge new alliances, even to sever old political ties. This comes at a moment when Kaliningrad is actually one of Russia's biggest (if not biggest) assets and plays a great role in its geopolitical future.

Russia's economy largely rests on oil and mineral wealth. Pipelines and the ability to export oil is thus crucial for them. Years ago, Poland built the Gdansk oil refinery in a bid to use different sources than the Russian crude that the pipeline brought to Plock. Now Russia is building a new pipeline westwards and is finalising the purchase of the Gdansk refinery. The Gdansk refinery can handle oil from the Baltic region. One of Russia's main pipelines goes to Kaliningrad.

At a time when pipeline plans through Chechnya seem less and less relevant due to the proposed Central Asian-Afgan plans, the Baltic area and Poland are Russia's key to increased oil exports.

The US would like more of Russia's oil. Decreased dependency on OPEC means that the US can put political pressure on the area and perhaps see some regime changes. This idea of a new oil politics and what it could mean was part of Bush's meeting with Putin. But this is a rather uneasy position for many people, in particular the Europeans who most likely feel rather threatened by the prospect of increased economic ties between Russia and the US.

A weak Russia has always been seen as a advantage for Europe and, quite conveniently, the US was always the leader in trying to undermine Russia's strength. Whatever reservations Americans may have about working with Russians though may be offset by the potential geopolitical gains they may see by joining forces. For Russia, American (or perhaps Amer-Russian) client states in the Middle East and Central Asia are preferable to Central Asian, Caucasian, Middle Eastern alliances. An increase in Russian-American cooperation is however something that mustn't bode very well with European powers. The best way for the Europeans to be a thorn in the side of the Russians and eventually have a bargaining chip is to cut off Kaliningrad.

Cutting off Kaliningrad may seem like quite a minute detail, although we shouldn't forget that the last people who demanded a corridor to the region used it as a pretext to launch an invasion of Poland. Not that such tactics are likely to be used now - more subtle oil politics may be the modern weapon. The ultimate geopolitical goal may be to detach Kaliningrad from Russia in some way which could eventually lead to a weakened Russian position in that region - not something that Russian oligarchs are likely to tolerate.

So despite the human concerns we may feel towards residents of the Kaliningrad region, concerns which are in and of themselves significant enough to oppose the border regime in the area, there are also major geopolitical manouevres connected with the area that are going on behind the scenes. For these reasons, we feel that at this time when the state and EU is cracking down on Kaliningrad, it is particularly important that we take our No Border actions there. So this summer, we will be on the border and we will make protests there during the polish bordercamp.

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