Kaliningrad: The Inconspicuous Enclave

A postcard showing the city of Konigsberg, which is today Kaliningrad, Russia

As a travel writer drawn to obscure and remote locales, I’ve developed an interest in a mysterious territory tucked between Poland and the Baltic states. The venue is Kaliningrad—a Russian province and enclave located within Europe and behind NATO lines. Formerly German Königsberg, it became part of the Soviet Union when it was awarded to Stalin after World War Two, in 1946.

Today, the region of roughly one million people contains Russia’s only northern warm water port and is one of its most strategic military perches. It’s home to Moscow’s Baltic Sea fleet—among other weapons of war—and is situated an uncomfortable stone’s throw away from several European cities.

Most people have never heard of Kaliningrad because it’s been a restricted area for foreigners for many decades. You couldn’t just go there on a whim if you were an independent traveler backpacking through Europe, for instance. Even on maps it has an ambiguous countenance that makes it nearly invisible, or at least easy to forget if you manage to see it in the first place.

Its geostrategic and military relevance, given the deterioration of relations with Russia, is now undeniably heightened.

For those interested, I’ve written a short opinion piece with my colleague, John Bell, about Kaliningrad in the Globe and Mail a few weeks ago entitled, “As Tensions Between NATO and Russia Increase, Look to Kaliningrad.”