What to Know About Kaliningrad

building with gold domes and crosses against blue sky

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Russia's smallest oblast (region) of Kaliningrad is an exclave located 200 miles away from the border of Russia proper. Kaliningrad was a spoil of World War II, allocated from Germany to the Soviet Union at the Potsdam Conference that divided Europe between the allied powers in 1945. The oblast is a wedge-shaped piece of land along the Baltic Sea between Poland and Lithuania, approximately one-half the size of Belgium, 5,830 mi2 (15,100 km2). The oblast's primary and port city is also known as Kaliningrad.


Known as Konigsberg prior to Soviet occupation, the city was founded in 1255 near the mouth of the Pregolya River. The philosopher Immanuel Kant was born in Konigsberg in 1724. The capital of German East Prussia, Konigsberg was the home to a grand Prussian Royal Castle, destroyed along with much of the city in World War II.

Konigsberg was renamed Kaliningrad in 1946 after Mikhail Kalinin, formal "leader" of the Soviet Union from 1919 until 1946. At the time, Germans living in the oblast were forced out, to be replaced with Soviet citizens. While there were early proposals to change the name of Kaliningrad back to Konigsberg, none were successful.

Key History

The ice-free port of Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea was home to the Soviet Baltic fleet; during the Cold War 200,000 to 500,000 soldiers were stationed in the region. Today only 25,000 soldiers occupy Kaliningrad, an indicator of the reduction of the perceived threat from NATO countries.

The USSR attempted to build a 22-story House of Soviets, "the ugliest building on Russian soil," in Kaliningrad but the structure had been built on the property of the castle. Unfortunately, the castle contained many underground tunnels and the building began to slowly collapse though it still stands, unoccupied.

After the fall of the USSR, neighboring Lithuania and former Soviet republics gained their independence, cutting Kaliningrad off from Russia. Kaliningrad was supposed to develop in the post-Soviet era into a "Hong Kong of the Baltic" but corruption keeps most investment away. South Korean-based Kia Motors has a factory in Kaliningrad.

Railroads connect Kaliningrad to Russia through Lithuania and Belarus but importing food from Russia is not cost-effective. However, Kaliningrad is surrounded by European Union member-states, so trade on the wider market is indeed possible.

Approximately 400,000 people live in metropolitan Kaliningrad and a total of nearly one million are in the oblast, which is approximately one-fifth forested.

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Rosenberg, Matt. "What to Know About Kaliningrad." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/kaliningrad-russia-overview-1435548. Rosenberg, Matt. (2020, August 27). What to Know About Kaliningrad. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/kaliningrad-russia-overview-1435548 Rosenberg, Matt. "What to Know About Kaliningrad." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/kaliningrad-russia-overview-1435548 (accessed January 29, 2023).