Vadim Petrov was born on February 1, 1983 in the city of Polessk, Kaliningrad Region. He received his education at the St. Petersburg State Agrarian University (SPGAU), branch of Polessk, at the Faculty of Agronomy. An active participant in the political scene, he holds the position of coordinator of the first regional party in Kaliningrad, the Baltic Republican Party, which is currently banned in Russia. Petrov advocates the European integration of the Kaliningrad region, supporting the project of a fourth Baltic Republic in the common economic space of Europe.
Situation in the region
– How have the economic situation, living standards, real incomes and prices changed in your region in recent years, especially since the start of the war?
– It is worth starting with the annexation of Crimea in 2014. At that time, our region, an enclave of Europe and an exclave of Russia, was the first to suffer from European sanctions. At that time, restrictions were imposed, but they did not function on a full-scale basis. And global changes began on February 24, 2022, after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The sanctions have a 100% effect on our region – this is due to transit. Now we are in semi-isolation. Everything is delivered here by ferry, and the route, where Russian airlines were previously allowed to fly, now passes over the Baltic Sea to St. Petersburg. Residents of the region pay for all losses, because the ferry service is quite expensive. Fuel has always been more expensive here than in the rest of Russia, although it has its own oil. But it is more convenient for the federal center to keep our region in a state of a militarized zone for a threat to Europe. Oil is not refined here – there is no corresponding plant. Therefore, because of the sanctions, fuel, food, and everything else have risen in price. And in the region, according to journalists, there are nuclear weapons, and Moscow uses the Kaliningrad region only as a threat to Europe. The economy here is practically not developed, so the region suffers the most from sanctions. He is particularly sensitive to them.
– In which industries has there been growth, and in which – decline?
– There is a decline in everything. It is not profitable for transport companies to be located in the region. Car insurance – the “green card” – has become much more expensive, as the European Union has changed the criteria. It is not profitable for businesses to work for Russia here: imports and exports are carried out by ferries, and there are huge queues there. I will not say exactly how much the GDP of our region fell during the war, but this drop is quite significant. Many businesses have closed, especially in small businesses. Of course, there is a mythical “special economic zone”, but there are companies loyal to the Kremlin regime, they receive some subsidies, they receive temporary exemptions with customs clearance. In the past, this zone really worked – by the way, this initiative was put forward by our party, it was promoted by the founder of the party, Sergei Pasko, and the first governor, Yuri Matochkin. Now there are concessions for a year, plus there are benefits for pro-Kremlin companies. And small businesses have nothing to do there.
– How has the employment situation changed?
– Unemployment, of course, has increased. With the outbreak of the war, the transit of goods, especially military goods, was restricted – the shipyard, the production of metals, and building materials were affected. And the industry in which we employed the most people was construction. In this industry, many companies have closed. For those who remain, it is not profitable to maintain employees who have nothing to build from. Building materials are imported, but very poorly.
– That is, residents of the region have an incentive to leave it and look for work elsewhere?
-Yes. In the first place we had the construction industry (counting finishing and similar work), in the second place – transport and supplies. There were quite a few officially registered companies that employed a lot of people. Now the largest companies in the region have folded, people have lost their jobs. More precisely, transport companies have reoriented to Russia – and their employees have left the region. I don’t know if they are now working on a rotational basis, or on a permanent basis, but on the territory of Russia. Some were connected with Europe, worked in Polish companies, in Lithuanian ones, and after the outbreak of the war, some of them left there, some stayed.
– How close are the region’s economic ties with Germany? Can they lead to the annexation of the region to it in the future?
– Germany does not need our region, and this should be clearly understood. Germany itself has forgotten about him, only some Germans who have relatives in the former East Prussia who have relatives buried here. But officially, Germany gave up East Prussia after World War II – I’m talking not only about our region, but also about the lands that became part of Poland and Lithuania. But Europeans clearly understand that this space is important to them. At one time, there was even local border traffic with Poland, plastic cards were issued, first for two years, then for five years – I myself had such a card. At first, they agreed with the European Union on visa-free travel regardless of Moscow, and then Poland offered such an option – however, it was not possible to enter all of Poland. Moscow had nothing to do with this, although its representative came to sign the document. This was beneficial for our entrepreneurs. Lithuania also considered this option. But everything was curtailed after the annexation of Crimea – the Poles stopped trusting Russia.
– In other words, there are no economic ties with Germany now?
– There were connections, there were a lot of projects – of course, before the war. But it was more about cultural exchange, about cooperation between universities. There were also environmental projects related to the Baltic Sea. But there were more joint projects with Lithuania, Poland, and Sweden, with which we also border on the Baltic Sea. Before the aggression of 2014, Europe invested something in the region and helped us improve the environmental situation. We talked about the Baltics, for example, about sewage treatment plants. Then, of course, everything came together. When sanctions were imposed because of the war, Moscow’s protégé, who runs the region, shouted that it was necessary to break through the Suwalki corridor to Belarus. At that time, adequate residents were twiddling their fingers at their temples, and there is enough adequacy there – people actively condemned Russian aggression against Ukraine. By the way, Ukrainians are the second largest ethnic group in our region. Not all of them condemn this aggression, but many of them – I know them personally. From our region, a bus went through Poland twice a week to Kyiv.
– Is the leadership of the region now fully controlled by Moscow?
– Yes, they are exactly following instructions from Moscow, and there is nothing good there. And Moscow, I repeat, is not using the region for its intended purpose – it is only a military bridgehead for it, its economic potential is not taken into account. Except that resources are being sucked out: although we are constantly called a subsidized region, we have quite a lot of amber, there is oil in the sea, and if it were processed here, there would be fewer problems with fuel, there would be jobs. In Sweden and Norway, this works – but it is not profitable for the Kremlin, and everything is controlled from there. Many residents of the region understand that it is not so economically dependent on Moscow.
– Do the regional elites be dominated by local figures or appointees from the center? Is there a struggle between the two?
– The governor, being a protégé of Moscow, brought his team from there. But there are also locals who sit in the regional parliament. But it’s the same as everywhere else: say something against it, and you won’t say anything else. Often, officials (about a dozen of them), contrary to the law, have their own business in the region – in construction, in the port and in other industries. But construction comes first. When we had a local governor and he began to establish ties with Poland, putting pressure on Moscow, he was slowly removed. Our politicians don’t really like it when the screws are tightened on some regional projects, it happened that people themselves resigned from their posts.
– How important is the head of the region, and what forces influence him, what does he represent, who is in his entourage, who is the most influential in the region?
– The governor is under the control of Moscow – after all, he was put there for a reason. If he does something wrong, I think Moscow can remove him. He is dependent on Moscow and has close ties with the regional FSB, and is in very active contact with it. Moscow fears the development of regionalism, which they call “Germanization.” In fact, there is no Germanization – there are just residents who want changes in the region, they are already tired of the madness that Moscow brings: war, seizures, and something else. They just want to live in normal good neighborliness with Poland, Lithuania and the European Union. We don’t need conflicts. Many people ask themselves the question: why should we do what was decided in Moscow? After all, if, God forbid, there really is a conflict between NATO and Russia, it will happen in our region. NATO will not threaten to seize it in three days, but will simply seize it in three days. Moscow’s policy has led to the complete isolation of our region.
– To what extent can the population influence the policy of the regional authorities?
– Of course, something depends on the population. For example, in 2010, Governor Georgy Boos, who had done a lot of nasty things to the residents of the region, was removed by Moscow due to protests that lasted for a whole week. First, 2,000 people came out, the next day 3,000, then another 2,000, then 10,000 people came from all over the region. Everyone demanded the resignation of the governor. At that time, Moscow was frightened, and Medvedev was still in power. There would have been a scandal over customs clearance of cars, and the governor may have brought new instructions from Moscow. People demanded that Boos be removed – and he was removed. After all, you need to understand that this small quiet region may someday explode. The population can really revolt. It is not clear when it will happen, but it is possible.
– What is the influence and role of the security forces, especially the Chekists, in the region?
– The influence is very high, they control all processes. There is even information from local journalists that they are protecting the amber business. Everything there is tied to corruption, they have their own interests everywhere. In addition, the Chekists in our region keep an eye on the residents especially closely – they are afraid of the regionalists. Surveillance is taking place on social networks, and those who speak out against the war are constantly imprisoned. Of course, this is happening all over Russia, but, as far as I know, there are most criminal and administrative cases under such articles in our region. Of course, not all of them make it to the end, not all of them are imprisoned, but most of the work is done here. And the residents of the region were especially active in opposing the war, writing about it more than anyone else.
– What is the influence of large corporations, including federal ones, in the region?
– For example, Rostec, which owns an amber factory, has a great influence. He systematically sells raw amber abroad, and local businesses cannot buy it because of this. This corporation also controls the shipyard. This prevents the region from reorienting itself to adequate business. After all, the amber factory should function normally – not sell raw materials, but work with it itself, cooperate more with neighbors, as it was done before – with Lithuania, with Poland. Then the market value of amber could rise. By the way, the Chinese use it in pharmacology.
– Which resources of the region are under the control of its authorities, and which are under the control of Moscow?
– One hundred percent are under Moscow’s control. The entire regional budget flows to Moscow, then crumbs return – however, the same is the case in other regions. Then local officials steal something else. In the end, nothing good comes out.
– How do you assess the benefits of the region from relations with the rest of Russia: does it give more than it receives, or vice versa?
– Naturally, the region gives more. In fact, the region is not subsidized, but the federal center makes it just that. If it develops in close cooperation with Europe – in terms of business, ports, industry, companies – it will be self-sufficient.
Striving for independence
– Is there a desire for independence in the region, and if so, has it strengthened or weakened in recent years?
– Residents of the region are intimidated by the FSB. Any regional encroachments are closely monitored, including by the police and the prosecutor’s office. For example, I had a resource called Königsberg Regionalism on VKontakte, which had quite a lot of subscribers, almost four thousand, most of whom were residents of the region. Recently, it was, let’s say, deleted. But the majority of people want change, they want to live in good neighborliness with Poland and Lithuania, in peace with Sweden, with which we border by sea – and not the way these people live now, with corruption, unemployment and the persecution of dissent. In our region, protests have always been normal, their level has been very high. But propaganda is also doing its job, and there is also a Soviet mentality, although compared to other regions it is minimized in our country, communist narratives are unpopular, although the federal center is trying to promote them through propagandists.
– Is there an organized independence movement in the region?
– What kind of organized structures can there be on the territory of Russia? As soon as you take a step in this direction, you will immediately be taken under the white hands. This is especially true when it comes to talk about regional independence. When our party first organized, it was only talking about republican status for our region – that is, a significant step towards Europe, but not a complete parting with Russia. so that our resources remain in the region. The leader of our party, Sergei Pasko, believed in the existence of some kind of federation, but it turned out that there was no federation, it was all just a failed Soviet Union. Over time, Pasko understood this, and so did many others, both in the region and beyond. But I know for a fact that its residents want change. Deputy of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine Oleg Dunda, with our help, held primaries in our region, and Moscow’s protégé Alikhanov did not even get into the top five.
Earlier, there was a referendum, and it also showed that the people want change. If he hadn’t wanted them, our party wouldn’t have won 10 percent of the vote, and two of our deputies wouldn’t have sat in the regional parliament. It must be clearly understood that our region has always looked to the West.
– Can the region, in your opinion, exist outside of Russia? If not, what format of interaction with the rest of Russia do you think is the most desirable?
– I think it is more profitable and respectable for us to coexist with the European space. Russia is too far away from us, so there are too many borders to cross. I don’t see any prospects in interacting with it. This is inexpedient, but cooperation with our neighbors, Lithuania and Poland, would be beneficial to both us and them.
– Can this region start a struggle for independence from Moscow? If so, under what conditions is this possible, and what forces could lead the process?
– I will not pull the blanket over myself and declare that I will lead the process. There are many such people in the region, including former politicians who do not like the actions of the Kremlin. I think that when Russia’s economy falls below the plinth, and people in the regions have practically nothing to eat, then the process can begin. After all, the Soviet Union collapsed in this way, no one expected it. A similar thing could happen to Russia. Then people will begin to think about the internal problems of their regions: how to live on, how to feed their children. I believe in the victory of Ukraine, because there is no other way: this imperialism has already fed up with too many. Adequate residents of our region understand everything perfectly well, but they are not ready to take up arms. It should be borne in mind that the army that we have in our region consists mainly of newcomers, and it can be thrown against the rebellious local population. And then there is the National Guard and other similar forces.
– What role could the current regional elites play in this process?
– It is not customary for these elites to talk about regional topics, but a certain percentage, I think, could join the process. There are people inside the system who understand everything perfectly, but there a step to the side is considered an attempt to escape. So you can lose your job or go to prison. But if something happens, I think there will be such people.
– If such a struggle were to begin, how likely is it that it will become violent? Who could use force, and how ready is the population?
– My opinion is as follows: if the residents of our region understand that the Russian Federation is falling apart, like the Soviet Union, but unity is maintained by force, and the people want to disown Russia, then this is possible. Our region is quiet and calm, but it is quite protest-like. After all, this is an enclave, it does not need to be compared with other regions where there is a public space. The tighter the center tightens the screws on our region, the higher the discontent of its residents.
– What position could the regional elites take if a “parade of sovereignties” begins in Russia?
– I don’t rule out that these people will want to change their makeup in order to survive. This is quite possible. Everyone will say: I have nothing to do with it, it was from Moscow that we were forced, we were controlled. But we, as a party, will not tolerate this. We know all the scoundrels in the government who are carrying out all these narratives, helping the invasion of Ukraine, investing the finances of our region in it. If they say something like that, it doesn’t mean that they will be listened to. After all, even the governor himself is included in all sorts of black lists, including those of the US Treasury. Who will talk to him, knowing that he worked for the Kremlin, helped the aggression against Ukraine, sent transport there? And he did all this to please the federal center.
– How highly do you estimate the probability of such a “parade” and what could prompt it, except for military failures?
– The civilized world must understand that the USSR did not really collapse. In fact, there is no federation, everything is controlled by the protégés of the center, and in the regions, especially in the republics, there is a persecution of dissent. If the civilized Western world wants to see this space more reasonable, then perhaps after Russia’s defeat, it will be ready to take patronage over these regions. For example, the U.S. could oversee Siberia, Canada could oversee the Urals. Unfortunately, although there is talk about what may happen to the Russian Federation after the defeat, the West is not yet ready for any specific plans. Someone is ready to bring Khodorkovsky to power and change something, but this is still the same Moscow-centrism, and I don’t think that the change of the first person will really change anything. Even after the departure of the war criminal Putin, it is unlikely that anything will begin to change in Russia. In my opinion, this imperialism can be defeated only if the territories are independent, when their own leaders are found within them. A confederation of republics could be formed here – there are such projects. But the main question on the part of the West is: where to put nuclear weapons? However, with the collapse of the USSR, it was divided away from the republics. Is it not possible for the civilized world to accept these weapons on its territory? And there can be no doubt that Russia needs nuclear disarmament, it is impossible to leave these weapons to it. For a certain period of time, there should be control over these territories, perhaps some international democratic institutions will take patronage over them and contribute to the establishment of democracy. But the problem is that the Western world fears Russia’s transformation into a post-Russia. However, it is necessary, there is no other way.
– If the region existed outside of Russia, what kind of political system, in your opinion, could be formed in it?
– We see our region as a parliamentary republic. We don’t need any presidents. There are parties, and they will decide everything in parliament. Whoever has more authority will get the most votes. In my opinion, this is how communication should go. In addition, this system will operate in the European space. But this does not mean that we will join the European Union – everything is very complicated here, it is a long process. I am referring to the pan-European space related to trade, business and the environment. We don’t need supporters of empire or communism, but no one will persecute them either – let them hold their own events, worship their idols. The main thing is rapprochement with Europe, because it is beneficial for it, especially Poland and Lithuania. They need this space to become European, to be under the control of the European Parliament. Our party is ready for the demilitarization of the region in exchange for the recognition of its independence as a Baltic republic – its project was laid down by Sergei Pasko. Only then there was talk of republican status within Russia, and now it is about independence. Having received it, we will solve our own internal problems.
The War and Its Aftermath
– To what extent does the population support this war and what is willing to endure for the sake of its continuation?
– Here, as elsewhere, the war is treated differently. Many people understand that this is not the way to do this, that there are international laws. In addition, we are talking about Ukraine, where many residents of the region have relatives. Many people are dissatisfied with the aggression, and many have emigrated because of it. People are fleeing not only from unemployment, but also from this madness, because both the authorities and the pro-Kremlin media are propagandizing the war. In my opinion, the majority of residents would like to stop the war. The more problems there are in the region, the more people begin to think: why do we need all this?
– What is the attitude of the regional elites, bureaucracy, business, and intelligentsia to the war?
– Entrepreneurs have a very bad attitude to the war. Business has suffered from it – of course, I am not talking about big business, which is at the Kremlin’s trough. Entrepreneurs do not advertise their dissatisfaction, but I personally know those who speak out against the war. People understand that this aggression is distancing us from civilization and driving the region into isolation. It is clear that this does not bode well in the future.
– Is there any dissatisfaction with the war among the people or the elites? If so, how active is it?
– This will manifest itself in the fact that people will begin to withdraw their business from the region. It is possible that entrepreneurs themselves will go abroad. Protest can take the form of producing something that is in demand in Europe.
– What consequences did last year’s mobilization cause in the region, and what consequences do you predict from a possible new mobilization?
– In the first wave of mobilization in big cities, they tried not to touch anyone. The population of small towns and villages was conscripted. There are quite a few dead among them. But not all of them are locals – there are many soldiers who served in our country under contract, and they were buried not in our country, but in their regions. However, in our region, the mobilization was noticeable – as local girls say, the field of men was thoroughly cleared. It is difficult for me to say what the next wave will turn out to be, but I know that in percentage terms of the level of refusal to participate in hostilities among the mobilised, our region is among the top five in Russia.
– Has the mobilization affected the economic situation?
– It is clear that there will be no male population – there will be no one to work. Therefore, the governor came up with the “Russian card” to lure those who live in Germany and the Baltic states here. They will be able to live on this card at first, and then they will receive a residence permit. At first, they systematically destroyed part of the population here, and then they try to attract new ones here. I think this confirms the fact that many men from the region have died in Ukraine.
– How willingly do the residents of the region go for contract military service?
– The propaganda worked, and people went to the service – but I will not say how many of them were locals. It is necessary to understand that the population was first created to be impoverished, and then they were promised large salaries in the army. A lot of people went there. But, for example, during the annexation of Crimea and the creation of the “LDNR”, we collected money for the “Prizrak” battalion – and the locals almost spat on these collectors, called them beggars. But later on, the propaganda partially did its job. Some of the men went to war, but I can’t say that there were many people in our region who wanted to go to war – perhaps more people didn’t want to. All over Russia, people have been driven to service by impoverishment – they are ready to fight mainly for money. Only they were not told that they were going there as cannon fodder, and that they could return in sacks.
– Are anti-war sentiments noticeable among people who have returned from the front?
– Those who lost their legs and arms in the war regret everything, but I won’t say that there are many of them. The realization came along with the understanding that the state did not need them, they had fulfilled their mission.
– Does the war affect the desire for independence in the region? If so, how?
– To some extent, it does. The more Moscow oppresses and destroys the inhabitants of the region, the more they understand that it is time to change something. There is an understanding that Russia does not need the region economically, it is only a military bridgehead.
– How actively are opponents of the war persecuted in the region?
– They persecute quite actively. For example, activist Igor Baryshnikov from Sovetsk (formerly Tilsit) was imprisoned for “fakes on the Internet” and received a huge sentence. His mother was ill, and she died during the trial – the regime effectively killed her. Everything that is said on the Internet is monitored – our region is being watched more closely than others, and they are afraid of discontent within the region. Moscow understands that as soon as the West supports people who want change, Russia may lose this space.
I do not rule out the possibility that the Baltic Sea will become NATO’s inland sea. Various scenarios are possible, and there may be a need for a complete continental blockade of the Kaliningrad region.
It is possible that NATO members and European Parliament officials in Brussels will adopt new sanctions, and Russian transport ferries will no longer be allowed into the Baltic Sea. This is due to the threat posed by Russia, with its current governance and aggressive actions, to the civilized world.
Based on loyalty to human rights, Europe and the countries that are members of the NATO alliance will decide to allow the passage of only humanitarian aid under the auspices of the Red Cross to the Kaliningrad region. This scenario is quite likely, since there is no trust in imperial Russia.