Russia has now proposed an easing of tensions with the West over its ambitions for parts of Ukraine, including Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. But even as relief is in sight there, we must realize that Ukraine is only the beginning of the list of European trouble spots with connections to Russia.
The former Soviet republic of Moldova has a breakaway Russian-speaking region called Transnistria that has 1600 Russian troops stationed within its borders. There are fears that Russia could invade Western Ukraine in order to reach Transnistria. Or put another way, Russia could use Transnistria as an excuse to invade much more of Ukraine than simply its Russian-speaking eastern and southern parts.
If fears of Russia reaching across other territories to come to the aid of Russian speakers are to be taken seriously, then Transnistria is small potatoes. The real problem of Europe is Kaliningrad.
Kaliningrad is a region in Europe west of Lithuania and north of Poland, over 200 miles (300 km) from the rest of Russian territory. Kaliningrad is part of Russia, a remnant of Soviet Union history. When the Soviet Union disintegrated, former Soviet republics became independent states. The Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia are examples of this. But Kaliningrad was part of the Russian Soviet republic, and thus stayed part of Russia after disintegration.
Kaliningrad is, I’ve been saying for years, the potential starting point for World War III. If Russia uses Kalinigrad as an excuse to send tanks streaming across Europe, or if Russia legitimately feels the enclave is threatened, it could have globally catastrophic effects.
As you may know from previous posts, I don’t like unsettled regions, they always lead to no good. Places like Afghanistan and North Korea, used as buffer zones and thus never allied to one great power or another, remain lands ripe for corruption and treachery. Better to just have it out once and for all, viz. Viet Nam (where a war was fought and won by one side), now a peaceful and increasingly prosperous member of the community of nations, compared to North Korea (where the war was not allowed to come to a final conclusion and the North became first a buffer state, and then a rogue state).
In other words, tensions should be relieved, and if they can’t be relieved peacefully, they are better relieved nonpeacefully than by being allowed to fester. So all the Russian hotspots of Europe need to be relieved of their tension, and this is how I think it should happen:
Let Russia have Crimea and allow the provinces of eastern Ukraine to vote fairly on whether they want to become part of Russia. In return, Russian troops will leave Transnistria, Transnistria will be re-integrated to Moldova, and all Russian-speaking Transnistrians will be given the opportunity to (and strongly urged to) relocate to Russia at the expense of the Russian government.
Additionally, the EU should offer to buy Kaliningrad from Russia. If the offer comes as Russia is in the throes of an economic downturn as it seems to be headed for now, it could prove quite enticing. The Kalinigrad residents could then be offered incentives to relocate to Russia, while those who didn’t would become EU citizens.
That’s right, EU citizens. Kaliningrad would not become an independent sovereign country, but an EU province. It would have a local provincial government, but sovereignty would be in Brussels. It would be the first full-fledged EU sovereign territory. It would have no right to withdraw from the EU. All EU residents would have the right to live and work there, and in order to ensure that the population was quickly integrated into Europe, there would be incentives for Europeans to move there, and for (Russian-speaking) Kalinigrad residents to move to other parts of the EU.
Thus a clear dividing line will be drawn between the EU and Russia, with no no-man’s land in between. The EU can be at peace with Russia, and trade with and work with Russia. But never again will there be a question of boundaries to spark conflict. Good fences make good neighbors.