Over the past 12 years all parts of the Baltic Sea Region experienced dynamic growth and development of their societies that enhanced the liberty and prosperity of their citizens. Estonia, Poland, Latvia and Lithuania moved from socialist poverty to the verge of EU membership. Russian cities like St. Petersburg and Moscow opened themselves up and began to boom. All of the postcommunist Baltic countries and regions gradually established the economic framework necessary to develop new and modern societies.
All parts of the Baltic region prospered, save one. Kaliningrad remains "the black hole amongst a string of pearls" around the Baltic Sea. Mired in corruption, poverty, and hopelessness, it is stained by the highest rates of AIDS infections anywhere in Europe and by startling rates of drug abuse. Why is this so?
History forms part of the explanation. The Soviet Union grabbed Kaliningrad (formerly Konigsberg) from Germany at WWII's end, evicting the resident Germans and turning the city into a warm water port for the Red Navy's Baltic fleet. But history is only partly responsible for Kaliningrad's current poverty and despair. Lack of vision and initiative from both Russia and the EU also imposed major obstacles to establishing long-term stability in this beautiful corner of the Baltic. This must change.
What Kaliningrad needs is a clear and stringent long-term plan for its development, to be jointly financed by the EU as well as Russia. A viable plan should neither be difficult to construct, nor prohibitively expensive. After all, Kaliningrad is an area about the size of the Danish island of Zealand; its population (1 million) is less than half that of Copenhagen and its suburbs. So reinvigorating Kaliningrad should not be an impossible task.