Balsys says that recent Russian actions show that borders established after the Second World War have lost their legal force. Balsys made his views known at a conference: “The World in 2017: The view from Vilnius”. Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania. He said that Russia had lost its legal right to the Kaliningrad Region after it annexed Crimea. He said now the status of the Kaliningrad Region (oblast) that was formerly known as East Prussia needed to be discussed at the international level.
At the conference Balsys said: “Time has run out for Kaliningrad. Kaliningrad was not given to Russia in perpetuity, either at the Potsdam Conference or at Helsinki. It was [only] said that the region would be put under Soviet administration until a final European peace agreement is signed.” He suggested that now there should be discussions as to how the territory could be returned to Europe. Another Lithuanian lawmaker Laurynas Kasciunas, made a similar proposal.
At the end of the second World War in 1945, the city of Kaliningrad and the surrounding area became part of the Soviet Union as agreed upon by Allies at the Potsdam Conference until territorial questions were answered at a peace settlement. The final status of the region was agreed by the Allied Control Council in Germany through the agreement ‘On the Liquidation of the Prussian State’ on February 25, 1947. Jurisdiction was turned over to the USSR. The borders of Kaliningrad were agreed upon at the Helsinki Accords:
Helsinki Declaration was the final act of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe held in Finlandia Hall of Helsinki, Finland, during July and August 1, 1975. Thirty-five states, including the USA, Canada and all European states except Albania and Andorra, signed the declaration in an attempt to improve relations between the Communist bloc and the West. The Helsinki Accords, however, were not binding as they did not have treaty status.
Vladimir Olenchenko, of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations’ Center for European Studies noted that Balsys remarks should be taken seriously by the Lithuanians themselves. He noted that the borders established by the Helsinki Accords have mostly held with a few exceptions, even after the USSR, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia broke up into constituent independent republics in the early 1990’s. He said: “If we look at the Act of Lithuanian Independence of 1991, it includes five or six lines where Lithuania confirms its commitment to the Helsinki Accords, declaring them as the basis for their independence.” If Lithuania brings into question the Helsinki Accords as Balsys does, it could face demands from neighboring Poland which had controlled the Vilnius region during the interwar period. Bringing up the issue could be detrimental to Lithuania’s own interest.
Kaliningrad used to be called Konigsberg when it was East Prussia part of Germany. The philosopher Immanuel Kant was born and spent his life in Konigsberg. Since the early nineties Kaliningrad has been a Free Economic Zone. It has a vibrant industrial base plus a great deal of smuggling activity. One in three televisions in Russia is built in Kaliningrad. Lithuania is planning to build a huge fence along the border to stop smuggling and for security reasons. Kaliningrad is highly militarized and Russia has sent missiles to the exclave in response to NATO buildups and the U.S. missile defense system.
Crimea joined Russia in March 2014 after a referendum in which it was claimed that over 96 percent of Crimeans voted to rejoin Russia with an 80 percent turnout. The vote was widely criticized in the west. No mention was made by Balsys of a referendum and it is not clear if Kaliningrad would become part of Germany again or become independent.