Kaliningrad Calling!

Now this is interesting – if also a little obscure. One of the current lesser crises going on (so that you barely hear about it) is the erosion of the EU’s Schengen Treaty whereby a large subset of member-states allow travel among themselves with absolutely no border controls. Now this arrangement – formerly the pride of the EU, on par with the common currenchy – is on the back foot, mainly due to the flood of refugees coming from North Africa (a by-product of the “Arab Spring”) and the general loss of member-state confidence that the Italian authorities at the first line of defence can keep them out before they do get into Italy and thereby into the Schengen zone, from where they have many options for further uncontrolled inter-EU travel. France was loudly talking about re-imposing controls on its Italian border a while back, while Denmark has actually done so on its border with Germany – to the sputtering protests (with no attendant action) of EU authorities.

In the middle of this, as the leading Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza now reports, the EU Commission is likely to open up visa-free travel from Russia. Well, not really all of Russia – but rather that strange Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, stuck there between Poland and Lithuania, outside of Russia proper. Oh, and they won’t actually be able to go to Lithuania – just to Poland. And, to make it clear, there still will be border controls in place, these Kaliningradians (?) will just be able to go through them (presumably flashing their Russian passports) without having to go through the trouble of getting a visa beforehand.

Then again, Poland itself has been within the Schengen zone for a while now; who knows where some of them will want to go on to from there? But the Commission is seemingly willing to take that chance and announce such visa-free entry tomorrow; according to the article (no by-line), it’s motivation is essentially that it feels sorry for the Kaliningradians, they must be so lonely: “to avoid the isolation of Kaliningrad from its immediate neighbors, it is necessary to ease the travel of its citizens.” Because that sort of isolation can’t be very healthy for any body politic.

Don’t laugh: since Kaliningrad was first isolated this way by the independence of Lithuania in 1990, it’s been mainly known (when noticed at all) for the shady activities of all sorts going on there: weapon-smuggling, alcohol/cigarette-smuggling, the dispatch of freighters with suspicious cargoes, and the like. This is quite simply a gesture to persuade people there to start behaving themselves.

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